WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Purdue has no chance at a Big Ten football championship. The Boilermakers' hopes of landing in a bowl game are gone.
But there are signs of progress for Purdue (1-9, 0-6 Big Ten), and first-year coach Darrell Hazell wants to show fans where the program is headed. The Boilermakers host Illinois (3-7, 0-6) on Saturday, which is Senior Day.
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"I think we've got to come out and play extremely well on Saturday and show the future of the program," Hazell said. "I think that's very important at this point in time. There's a great crop of young guys out there, to be able to track and follow their career here in the next three, four, five, six years, and they're fun. Some of those guys are fun to watch."
The Boilermakers haven't won since beating Indiana State in the season opener, but showed signs of improvement in a 45-21 loss at Penn State on Saturday. The Boilers topped 20 points for the first time since scoring 28 in a loss to Northern Illinois in September.
It gave Hazell something to build on this week.
He wants to see his team improve on some of the pass plays that allowed the Boilermakers to move the ball against Penn State. They threw for 223 yards, the most since throwing 371 against Northern Illinois.
"I think if we can throw some of those bubble swings and some of the nakeds and jailbreaks, those are easy completions," Hazell said. "It takes a lot of stress off of the offensive line as well as the quarterback as well as the receivers getting open. All those things that you can get easy completions, that takes a lot of stress off, so that's part of the offense that we need to continue to get better at."
Now is a good time to polish some of those plays and skills. The Boilermakers host a team in the Fighting Illini that hasn't won a league game this season. Then Purdue will wrap-up the season against rival Indiana, who has had its share of struggles.
A win against either won't erase all the losses. When asked Tuesday what best describes this season, Hazell said: "A work in progress."
Hazell likely found his quarterback for the next several years in true freshman Danny Etling, who took the starting role from senior Rob Henry. Etling has shown what he can do when he has enough time to work each play.
Now it's a matter of getting everything to click at the same time.
"I think it's everybody just really understanding that their role is so vitally important," Hazell said. "If you can take care of your role as an individual, then it's going to help. And offensively you've got to be 11 for 11 guys doing the right thing."
Despite the struggles, Hazell has kept his optimism about the direction of the program and still has the same vision as when he took the job earlier this year.
"I know it's going to happen," he said. "It's just when it's going to happen. It's going to be a great program. I tell my staff that all the time, `Just keep working the process. Don't panic, don't flinch. And sometimes it's frustrating for you, but you've got to keep working the process."'