PURDUE UNIVERSITY MEDIA CONFERENCE
November 21, 2012Richmond High School
Q. Let's start with just some general thoughts on Indiana.
DANNY HOPE: Well, they're playing very well right now, wide open offense, hyper?speed tempo offense, can really crank the plays out. They can get the ball snapped in 10 seconds if they want, can really speed the process up, so that will be a challenge for us defensively. The quarterback is playing very well, very efficient, scoring a lot of points.
Defensively they're very aggressive. Their two defensive tackles play very well. They're probably two of the better paired defensive tackles in the Big Ten as far as the guys that we have faced this year. But their whole team is playing with a lot of energy and much improved and they score a lot of points.
Q. I wanted to get an update on Ralph Bolden. How is he doing with the hamstring?
DANNY HOPE: Well, he's questionable for the game, questionable to probable, somewhere in that range. He's very optimistic that he'll play, and when we got back in on Sunday and the word coming out of the training room on Monday is that it's not as bad as what we thought, so we anticipate him having a chance to be ready to play, but we'll get a little bit of work with him either today or tomorrow and see how it holds up. But if he can go and he feels confident in it, we'll put him out there. But still some doubt about it right now.
Q. And obviously he had a big run against Illinois, but just overall what has his return meant to the team?
DANNY HOPE: I think he's been a real inspirational player, real inspiration to his teammates. He certainly has been to me and the coaches. You know, I think what he has done has been extraordinary, to come back from three ACLs, the third ACL repair hasn't been a year yet, it's only been several months, and to come back and play like he's played, he started off a little bit slow and has returned somewhat to his best form in a lot of ways and has really played exceptional the second half of the season, the latter part of the season. So he's been a very good player on Saturdays. He's helped us win, he's made a difference to our football team with his play on the field. I'm sure the last two or three Saturdays he's an inspiration to the coaches and our team, he really is. He's a very special player and can't say enough great things about all the things he's done and what he stands for.
Q. Joe Tiller used to talk about this game. He made no secret he thought it was hugely important because you always felt like you had to?? if your in?state arch rival was down, it was best to keep them down when you go out on the recruiting trail and it was something you definitely mentioned to recruits and things when you went out, that you had the upper edge on the team you were facing in?state. Just kind of what's your feelings on the Bucket game and just kind of put it in perspective a little bit what you think the importance of it is?
DANNY HOPE: Well, it's really a lot of fun. It's a great game, certainly the most exciting game on our schedule on an annual basis, one of the greatest sporting events in the state of Indiana on an annual basis, so a huge game. I've been a Boilermaker now for 10 years, 10 years as a coach, and I know the magnitude of the ballgame is one that I look forward to every year. It's very exciting, a very passionate rivalry. I've been a part of a lot of great rivalry games throughout my coaching career, and this is certainly one of the most intense in?state rivalry games.
So just a lot of fun, and a special game, one of the reasons why you want to come to Purdue is just to be a part of this rivalry, and any time that you can beat an in?state opponent, I think that's always great, a great sign for your program.
Big game, a lot of reasons you want to win, but just being a Boilermaker is why you want to win this ballgame.
Q. How tough is their offense to prepare for with that warp speed? It looks like obviously they've gotten better as the season has gone along.
DANNY HOPE: Oh, they're executing very well and they score a lot of points, and they strike fast. We played against Marshall earlier in the season, and they were almost a predominant passing football team, threw the ball almost every down, they were a hyper?speed football team. Different route structures, different many plan in some ways but similar from a tempo standpoint so we've had some experience already this season.
But they're a lot to prepare for and they execute very well. I think the numbers speak for themselves. They're the No.1 passing offense in the Big Ten this season, and I think they're averaging around 30 points a game, so they're very efficient.
Q. (No microphone.)
DANNY HOPE: Well, it can get too big if you're not careful, and with this particular football team, the last two or three weeks we have really made it a real emphasis to play loose and more wide open. I thought that we had played tight earlier in the season at a crucial point in time in our season. When the competition was at its highest and the stakes were the highest, I thought our team played tight some. So our approach the last two or three weeks is to be loose and be wide open and have a lot of fun, so that will be the approach that we take going into this ballgame.
The magnitude of the rivalry speaks for itself. I don't think you have to spend a whole lot of time hyping the team up to get ready to play this particular ballgame.
Q. (No microphone.)
DANNY HOPE: Well, I think any time you play a rivalry game you can just throw the numbers out the window. You can put the film on and watch them play; they play hard, they play close to the wide receivers. We had a tough game with them the last couple years. It's been close. So regardless of records, regardless of numbers, we're going to have to get ready to play a great ballgame. It will be a great ballgame. It will be a football game that everyone would want to be a part of so you can throw the numbers out the window when you play a big rivalry game like this.
Q. (No microphone.)
DANNY HOPE: Hopefully, but there's not a lot to compare it to. We haven't been very healthy and we're still not going to be 100 percent, but we have really had some struggles and guys have missed a lot of reps in practice. We've had to take the banged?up guys and a lot of those guys are our top players and put them kind of together as a Red Cross unit and get them lined up and get them slow speed reps so they can at least get some identification of what they're going to see this weekend and get their calls in, but we haven't been able to practice some of our top players to a full speed throughout the course of the practices for several weeks in a row now. That's negated their performance some and they haven't been full speed from a health standpoint.
But we're probably healthier now going into Tuesday, today, than we have been across the defensive front in three or four weeks, so that's a good sign, but we're still not 100 percent yet, we're going to have to make sure that we don't do anything to deteriorate their physical condition that they are in right now. We have to be smart with the reps and make sure we don't debilitate any injuries we can't recover from right now. I don't see the plan changing as far as the preparation goes over the last three or four weeks but hopefully we're further ahead and we'll be fresher and more physical and more effective as a result of being healthier going into this ballgame.
Q. (No microphone.)
DANNY HOPE: Well, right now he comes to the office some during the day and then comes in and watching the practices some, but he's not physically able to coach or help us get prepared for the ballgame. But just having him around is really important for the players and also for him, as well. He's really not part of the preparation or part of the game management on Saturday.
Q. (No microphone.)
DANNY HOPE: In the past it hasn't worked, so why would you? Go ahead.
Q. (No microphone.)
DANNY HOPE: I hope so, but any time you're dealing with a back, who knows. You know what I am saying? That's one of the most unpredictable injuries you can have and his is significant right now, so I don't know. We're worried about winning this Saturday and getting ready to play this ballgame this Saturday with our players, and that's what we're focused on right now, and right now he's not really available to contribute.
Q. (No microphone.)
DANNY HOPE: We'll know a little more after today. Gabe maybe. Mostert, it depends how sore he gets. He looked pretty good to me the other day, just don't know how much confidence he has with it right now; he hasn't had many reps. And then Brandon Taylor we'll have to wait and see. He had a high ankle sprain throughout the last couple weeks. I'd love to get some play out of him. We're going to have to be able to play some guys. They're a hyper?speed offense so you've got to have some guys that roll in and out of there some and keep your guys fresh.
I would love to get Brandon Taylor back because he's a physical player, and not having him has affected our productivity across the defensive front some, but I don't know, we'll know when we watch him get out there and move around and see how he feels tomorrow.
Q. (No microphone.)
DANNY HOPE: Done very well. He's a guy that earlier in the season got lost in the shuffle or in the depth chart a little bit. We had certain guys that were playing in the secondary and he wasn't a starter, Landon Feichter was back there and doing a great job and Max played some but didn't play quite as much as maybe he would have wanted to earlier in the season, and then we got into some games and he kept working hard and he's emerged as one of our better players at times, so we want him in the ballgame.
We're limited some numbers?wise at the outside linebacker position. We do some things in some of our packages where you don't have to have the biggest guy out there because he's a medium?sized guy. He's maybe 6'0" and 190?something pounds. But he has really played well; he's playing like a senior. He's been very physical on special teams, he's been one of our guys on special teams that's really into it, so he's been an exceptional player on special teams. He's gotten better and better as a football player all season long, so he's done very well in his dual role, and we're trying to find more ways to get him on the field now because he's doing so well. So pleased with his performance and he's helped us win the last couple of weeks.
Q. You and the administration and marketing and things have tried to do a lot to try to spur attendance this year. What do you think about some of those efforts, and what has been your thoughts on the attendance this season?
DANNY HOPE: Well, we do put a lot of effort into getting our team and our coaches and myself out amongst the fan base, and dozens of times throughout the course of a year our team makes itself available to help market the football program, so I really appreciate the effort of our players. They've been very committed to Purdue football.
We have great fans. We just don't have enough of them. And we need to get more great fans on board. We've played some games earlier in the season, and some of them were not as sexy, if you will, from a billboard standpoint, played Eastern Kentucky and some schools that may not be great fan pleasers but would have liked to have seen all the fans come out and fill the stadium like they do at other big?time colleges.
And then we started the season off fast. We started off 3 and 1 with a loss to Notre Dame on the very last play of the ballgame, who's undefeated and playing for a National Championship, and came back to Ross?Ade and we were still a long ways away and had a lot of empty seats.
We put a great effort into it. I think we have to have change from a mindset standpoint. I think there's a lot of things that we have to address that are key factors to the program. But again, we have lots of great fans, we just need to have more of them. We just need more of them. We're hoping we have a strong showing here at the end of the season and will bring some fans back into Ross?Ade.
We recognize we didn't play as well at a focal point in the season and a lot of fans gave up on our football team. We understand that, and our play, we manufactured that, was a factor in that, along with other things, as well.
But a football team hasn't given up. We've fought hard and came back and we've played well and we've won and we've gotten ourselves in position to have a winning season and to get into postseason play and maybe play in a pretty good Bowl game. This is a great opportunity this weekend for our great fans and all the other fans that can get back on board and make a difference, show up this weekend in Ross?Ade because it's a huge game this weekend against IU.
Q. Is it a tough balance as a head football coach to both try to be a cheerleader to spur?? try to be a motivator to spur fans but also you have your duties as the football coach which are probably a bigger priority than that?
DANNY HOPE: My commitment since I have come to Purdue has been life?consuming. Every phase of the program, I've dedicated my life and the lives of our assistant coaches to, everything from marketing to player development to recruiting, you name it. It's been a life commitment. That's what it takes at this level, and that's what it takes at Purdue.
If we had put a better product on the field at a focal point in the season, that might have helped in some ways, but we came back here 3 and 1, played Michigan at home, and it was slim as far as attendance goes.
I think it's more than just the play on the field. I think there's a lot of things that need to be addressed to rally up the fan base in a lot of ways.
Q. What are some of those things?
DANNY HOPE: Well, I'd rather talk about Indiana and the Oaken Bucket and kind of focus on the game rather than talking about an after advanced marketing plan that just details into the future or get into any of those kind of discussions, so I'll pass on that one.
Q. You're planning on making some changes to senior day, at least with how the guys come in, right?
DANNY HOPE: Right.
Q. What are those?
DANNY HOPE: We try to get senior day done with?? prior to the team going into the locker room. In the past we've gone to the locker room and gotten warmed up, gone to the locker room and came out and had senior day, and they went from senior day straight to the sideline. We're going to try to have senior day a little bit earlier, go into the locker room, honor our seniors. We have a fantastic senior class and they have very strong, supportive families that's all part of our football family, and we'll have some festivities right before we go to the locker room after stretch and wrap that part of it up a little bit earlier, and the fans still be part of that experience with us. Most of them?? a lot of the fans are in the stands already half an hour before the game. So we're just going to get it done before we go to the locker room.
We looked at a lot of different ways, but we think that's the best way for this group this year.
Q. What are your thoughts on the additions to the Big Ten?
DANNY HOPE: I think it's good. Some parts of it I really like. I like the revenue part of it. I think you can take a lot of that money and earmark it for football and do some things to take the program to the next level that we maybe had the resources for in the last decade to be able to do. So I think it's very promising for football at Purdue.
I think it affects some schools more than others. If you're really strong from a revenue standpoint, a few more million dollars may not impact your life or several million more dollars may not impact your life as much as it would ours, so I really like it from the standpoint of what it provides potentially for football for Purdue because with the economic times like they are, the resources have been slim sometimes. So I think it's huge, a huge opportunity for Purdue football to take some giant steps.
It's hard to fathom that idea that we don't drive to Champaign, that we'll drive out east somewhere to play, but that's just part of it. I'm a traditionalist in some ways, I like playing schools close by and ones that we're used to playing. I think that's a lot of fun. I hate to lose a rivalry game with Illinois, particularly with all the Purdue alum that's tied with the Chicagoland fan base. I think there's a lot of that that's a big part of Purdue and Purdue football and Big Ten history. Those things are hard to separate from. But it does provide some great potential for all of us in athletics in the Big Ten and I think it creates some really unique opportunities for Purdue football.
Q. How would you evaluate what Tim Tibesar has done this year as your defensive coordinator?
DANNY HOPE: I think he's done a heck of a job. We were really good early when we were healthy and sure. We had a lot of confidence, a lot of good, fresh bodies to play with and guys that were really well prepared. I think he's an outstanding teacher, has a great plan, a fantastic plan. I don't have any question about the plan that he has. The fact that he's only been with them for one spring ball makes it difficult in some ways or a challenge in some ways because there were three or four weeks in a row here that we played some really good offensive football teams that had great players, but they were different from a schematic standpoint, and we had to go into each ballgame with different game plans that a lot of them it was the first time that we had done those together in a real live game against great competition, and then we got banged up and we got lean a little bit from a personnel standpoint, so there was a real challenge there.
But I like what he brings to the table from a character standpoint, a football knowledge standpoint, and all the standards that he hangs his hat on. I think that he's a real positive experience for the players. I think he's a fantastic coach with a great football mind, really hasn't had the opportunity maybe to shine like he would have liked to have had based on trying to get it done in one season, and then the quality of the opponent that we played against at the same time that we got thin across the defensive front, and that was going to be the strong point of our football team.
It affects everything. It affects the number of interceptions that you have, the number of PBUs that you have, it affects everything.
We lost some firepower across the front. So I think he's done a good job, and I've been with him every step the whole way, and I understand why some of the things haven't worked out. I think that's why it's a little bit easier for me to say I think he's done a good job. I understand why some of the things haven't worked out.
Q. Tommie Thomas is a guy who doesn't get an opportunity for various amount of reasons, I'm sure, to produce maybe on the field very often. But what he's brought to you guys kind of behind the scenes with his leadership and kind of his emotion and energy, has that been just as important?
DANNY HOPE: Well, he's an energy giver, and that's really important because the commitment that it takes to play at this level sometimes can drain the energy from the players. I think that happened to our football team at one point in time. For what it takes to play at this level on a yearly basis, if you don't time things out right, your tank is empty at some point in time. And Tommie is an energy giver, he's an energy bringer. That's really important. He's always upbeat, always puts his teammates and the team first. He's really, really honest, a great character guy, and a lot of fun to be around, and you need some of that because sometimes it's tough times and some levity and someone that's upbeat and optimistic can go a long way.
I think he's a good leader for us and he certainly knows the difference between right and wrong, and I think he leads by example. We're very proud to have had him on the team and he's been a good addition to our club.
Q. Before the season when I asked you how you would define success, you said there are a lot of different parts to that, but one of the things you had said was I'm not concerned about the record as much as the effort and what we put into it. From that perspective, how do you feel your team has performed based on an effort level throughout the year?
DANNY HOPE: Well, throughout the course of the year, again, I thought towards the middle of the season there were some times where the wind was let out of our sails some. We had these great expectations and unbelievable opportunities but not able to get it done. Then all of a sudden that's a letdown and you might lose a little bit of confidence as a team and your fan base loses a little bit of confidence. All those things can snowball and affect you in some ways.
But the fact that we were able to be resilient enough and want to win bad enough to keep working hard and keep developing ourselves as a team and come back and be in position to do some great things still throughout the course of the season, to beat Iowa at Iowa for the first time in 20 years against their packed house and the win against an Illinois football team that does have some good players and redeeming qualities, to be in position to have a successful season and maybe go to a very good Bowl game. I think all of those things are evident at giving a great effort.
But it's been up and down some, just based on some of the rough things that we had at a focal point in the season.
Q. With Thanksgiving this week, what are you thankful for?
DANNY HOPE: I'm thankful that I get to work with these great young men on a daily basis and have a wonderful wife and son, and I'm coaching football, man, and having a good time doing it. I'm thankful for a lot of things. Thank you for asking that.
Q. With Thanksgiving, how will this week work for the team, and do you give them any time off to maybe get home or how will it all play out?
DANNY HOPE: Well, I think a little bit of R & R will be good for our football team, particularly coming off the effort that they've put into it. I thought coming off the Iowa game, I was concerned about being flat this weekend, just from an interesting standpoint. I was concerned about a letdown, even though you can't imagine how there could possibly be one.
But I'm telling you, when you get up like that, you become susceptible to having a letdown, and I didn't feel like our team had as much energy going into the ballgame this past weekend or even just the celebration in the locker room. One heck of a celebration in the locker room, it still wasn't quite the same.
I think Thanksgiving coming this week is a good thing. They don't have school for part of the week to allow them to sleep a little bit later and rest a little bit more and take some academic pressure couple of days. We have a lot of guys that spend an unbelievable amount of time committed to football and academics. You'd really be impressed the guys are putting in 60?, 70?, 80?hour weeks to be a student athlete. A break along the way I think will be good for our football team.
We're going to practice a little bit earlier tomorrow, get done a little bit earlier. Today is a regular Tuesday. Tomorrow there's no school, so we'll practice a little bit earlier and get done with it a little bit earlier. And then we're all going to come over here tomorrow and have a Thanksgiving dinner together, the players and all the coaches and our families, and then we'll come in Thursday morning and practice a little bit and try to get them out of here by noon and not bring them back until Friday afternoon until team meetings in the afternoon like 2:30 or 3:00, so try to give them about 24, 25 hours off, then pick up our regular routine starting Friday afternoon for our regular home game routine.
I'd like some of the guys that can go home, that are close by, to take some of their teammates with them and still get off their feet and eat some turkey and have a great Thanksgiving.
Q. That's kind of a similar plan you've had the last couple years, right?
DANNY HOPE: I think so. A lot of options, really.
Q. You've referenced a couple times that the team is more relaxed, playing loose. Why did it take so long for them to get into that mindset?
DANNY HOPE: I don't know. Maybe expectation management, or who knows. People. Again, any time that you put a lot into it and then it doesn't work out, that can be tough to rebound, and we had some great opportunities on some huge stages with great expectations and top?of?the?line opponents that haven't lost any games at all really, and we were expected to beat them and wanted to and believed we could and we didn't. For us to set our goals and aspirations to beat those teams with what we thought was going to be a good Purdue football team, that we believed was going to be a good Purdue football team and not set our goals and aspirations to beat those teams and to try to beat the division champions I think would have been beneath us. We set our goals high, and we shot for the stars and we didn't hit them. I think that let some of the wind out of our sails, and we had to rebound from that.
And two or three weeks of rough sledding. I think we got the monkey off of our back some, and we had to maybe take a little bit different approach to the games. We had everything to gain and nothing to lose.
We had to be a little more loose as a football team, not be quite so tight. I think we were getting tense rather than intense, and that's not a good thing.
A lot of factors, a lot of motivational, psychological factors, and some psyche of the team and the players that you deal with on a year?in?and?year?out and individual basis. Nothing new. Same challenges.
Q. Along those lines, you've had a difference in your play at home and on the road, especially in the Big Ten. Is that as simple as who you're playing, especially at home, where you've had three of the best teams in the league here?
DANNY HOPE: I think that's part of it. But we played some awfully good teams on the road, too. We played Ohio State on the road, played Notre Dame on the road. And again, there's a lot of?? in some of those venues the energy is outstanding. It's second to none, a fantastic atmosphere, and obviously our team can feed off of that regardless of whether we're home or away. So I think there's some different factors why we have played better on the road, sometimes maybe it's a little bit easier to focus just on the game alone when you're on the road, and sometimes when you're on the road it's only about us and it's easier just to focus on us in some ways. But I think there's several factors why we didn't play better.
Q. You talked about the financial impact of Maryland and Rutgers coming in and how it can benefit Purdue. If you had the magic checkbook, how would you improve Purdue football from a financial standpoint? Where would you earmark those resources for your program?
DANNY HOPE: Well, I think you take any facility that's football related and you look at it that's not an A+, then you make it an A+, and we have some facilities here that are A+. Our indoor facility is an A+. Our new practice fields are outstanding. There's some other areas, I won't earmark them now, but there's other areas of our program from a facilities standpoint that are not an A+ yet. There's still some below average and they're not sufficient enough.
Obviously from a compensation standpoint we're way behind from assistant coaches' salaries. We're probably $300,000 or $400,000 behind pool?wise next to last. We're 12th in the Big Ten, hundreds of thousands of dollars, $300,000 or $400,000, and that really affects the program in a lot of ways.
I feel like it had an adverse effect on Coach Tiller's regime at the end. He wasn't able to retain a lot of his top coaches. He's a Hall of Fame football coach, and in the end he had some struggles maintaining the program at the level he would have liked to, and I think the fact that he couldn't retain top coaches was a major factor in that.
But it's huge in the hiring process. You minimize or you limit the pool, the pool size. It's difficult to hire coordinators when the assistant coaches don't pay very much, are your assistant coaches going to stay or do they want to have to train people on an annual basis as coaches move in and out of the program. You can look and see where we're at, and I've got files of information to show guys where we're at. We're a long ways away.
There's a lot of areas. Any areas that we're not competitive enough in, lower tier teams in the Big Ten, then you're really struggling to give yourself a chance to compete with the upper tier teams in the Big Ten.
And then there's some times you have to really make sure you understand the difference between being a team that sometimes can beat a team like (inaudible) the last four years or beat a team like Michigan and being a team like Ohio. Big difference.
Q. Torwudzo got on the field some Saturday in Dolapo's absence. Talk about his potential moving forward and what maybe kept him off the field the last couple years.
DANNY HOPE: Well, he's had to pick up his level of play. He was injured in high school, and he's a big receiver and he's got good hands. He had to focus more on football. He came to Purdue like a lot of other freshmen and spread himself thin with school and learning how to become a college student and trying to be a college student athlete, as well. I think he's a lot more focused on football now, a lot more serious about it, and he's learned his plays and goes hard and focuses in practice. So he's matured physically a lot. Even though he's always been a big receiver, he's a big, lean receiver now, so I think he runs better now than he did when we recruited him in high school. He was a developmental player in some ways because he was injured and a big receiver, but I think he's leaner and faster, more aggressive, more confident, and really been into it.
He has been involved with some of the signaling on the sidelines and helping with the personnel and grouping, management on the sidelines and has really stepped up some with his commitment. So a lot of good things going on for Charles right now.
Q. Your thoughts on Antwon Higgs applying for a fifth year of eligibility and the physicality he's brought to your defense?
DANNY HOPE: Well, he loves to play the game. He was out of the mix for a couple of years and didn't play near as much as he would have liked to have. Had some injuries, and when he's able to come back and play, he brought a lot of spirit, a lot of fire to the field. Loves to play. He's always upbeat, he's got a lot of energy. He also is an energy giver, so he brings all those things to the table, and he's a 250?, 260?pound linebacker with some physicality about him. So he's really strong in the box, he can take on the fullbacks. The guy loves to play, so he's fun to coach and great to have out there on Saturdays.
Q. Based on play this season, who would you say has been an All?Big Ten caliber player?
DANNY HOPE: Well, I haven't seen a lot of the other teams play. I've seen about half of them play. Kawann Short I think is an All?Big Ten player. Robert Maci, but we spread him thin at two different positions, so you'd have to watch him a lot to see that. I think Ricardo is a heck of a player. Akeem Hunt is in some ways, but what position does he play? He's just a guy that stacks up from an all?purpose yardage standpoint, and we put him in there whenever we need a touchdown.
But we have a punter, Cody Webster, has been an impact player for us in several games. So I think we have a handful of guys. Josh Johnson has been a very steady player. He had a couple games he didn't play as well in, but he's played very well in some games.
Landon Feichter, he's tied for first place in the Big Ten in interceptions and he leads our team in tackles. That's an awfully good year for any player. So I think we have a lot of guys?? I don't have the list. We sent in some nominations the other day. I don't have the list with me, but those are some of the names that just pop in my head.
Q. Everybody is obviously impressed with Robert Marve coming back from his injury and to be playing. Now that you've had a chance to watch him play a couple of games, what are your thoughts on what he's done on the field?
DANNY HOPE: He's playing really well. Playing very, very well. He has taken his game in spite of the injuries and all the things that he's been through, he's ended up being the player that he should have been. It's unfortunate he hasn't played at this level for three or four years and then he could have maybe been an All?American player and we'd have won a lot more ballgames and it would have been a different type of success story. But he's playing very, very well.
He has done a better job of managing the game, managing the offense, has really been into it. He's been an excellent leader. We say that all the time, guy is a good leader, guy is a good leader. He's unique to me as a leader, this guy. He does it vocally, it does it by example. He just puts his heart into his game, plays the game with such passion that he raises the level of the play of the people around him. There's some times that it's been tight in some ballgames that Robert has stepped up there and rallied everyone up.
I think he plays the game very well. I think he leads the Big Ten maybe in completion percentage. You'd have to the check. Somebody told me that you know how things are. But he's played very well and his quarterback efficiency rating is efficient last year, but last year we couldn't get him the reps. We couldn't keep him healthy and get him in the games on a consistent enough basis, and he got great reps in the spring and he got great reps in the fall. He was competing to be the guy. He was competing with a quarterback that just had gone to a Bowl game that had played very well, too. And then played very well against Eastern Kentucky and got the injury against Notre Dame and we didn't think he'd ever play again.
So I think his story is remarkable, but I think he's playing the quarterback position very, very well. Making good decisions with the football, which is huge at that spot. He took it and ran with it a couple times the other day and got us a 1st down instead of just throwing it out there and hoping that someone caught it. I think he's making good decisions with the ball and has taken his game to a different level.
Q. Aside from the competition, what can you say has changed most with perhaps the way the team was approaching the game the last couple of weeks? Is there a difference?
DANNY HOPE: Well, there's a difference. Our team got together collectively, the leaders had meetings with the players and everybody had a chance to look in the mirror and everybody is trying to ask themselves what can I do to impact the football team. Our guys want to win, so we've had a collective effort. We recommitted ourselves and rededicated ourselves when things weren't going as well, so we stopped and regrouped, and we have stayed the course. Or we have tried to stay the course.
But I think that we have played as a much more relaxed football team the last two or three weeks for some of the reasons that I elaborated on just a few minutes ago, and I think that's probably the biggest difference.
And then I think that Robert Marve has made a difference to our football team. I think he brings energy to the team and he's a guy that he has a special gift as a passer. Any time that you have somebody out there that has something special about him or someone that maybe can create some magic on a play, that brings maybe a little more confidence to your football team or a little more belief that you can win. But he is an exceptional passer, and he's played well. So I think it's a lot of things that have made a difference in the play of our team.
Q. How does adding those schools (inaudible)?
DANNY HOPE: That's a great question. It may be a little bit of both. We have so much time invested in areas that are just laden with football talent, you'd be hard?pressed to talk me out of going into Texas and Georgia and Florida and Georgia because there's so many players down there that you can just keep looking and you can find somebody that can make a difference to your football team. We do recruit on a national level, and we send coaches out to the states in the East and we'll go anywhere where there's a player that's interested in Purdue.
I felt like when Nebraska joined the league a year ago and obviously the word was out prior to that, that we maybe did a little bit better in Dallas recruiting, guys that had grown up their whole lives following Cornhusker football.
We've always been strong in the state of Texas. When I came back as the head coach of Purdue I committed more coaches to the state of Texas to strengthen our efforts in the state of Texas, and the timing of Nebraska coming into the league, I think that's helped us some in Texas.
So I think it will in the East, as well. We do recruit in the East, and we've had interest from players in the East, but I assume we'll have greater interest from even more players in the East now.
Q. I know that (inaudible)?
DANNY HOPE: Well, some of the coaches that are playing on Saturdays are Coach Tiller's recruits; I believe there's still out there some out there, as well. I'd have to check, but most of these guys have played for me for the last four years since I've been part of this program for the last four years, and I think that they see the difference in the program, some of the areas that we have developed in, and I think they're really proud of their contribution and commitment to those areas and the growth of our program, and we've been through a lot. There was the first year here where we turned the ball over some in the first part of the season and started off with not such a great record but came back and had some signature wins against Ohio State, that and Michigan and won some Big Ten games and were above .500 in Big Ten play. That had not happened a whole lot prior to that.
And then the next year we had all those guys injured, and even thought we didn't have a winning season we had some freshmen that really competed and played hard and scrapped it out with some great teams and really hung in there.
And then last year had a chance to return the program to postseason play and had to fight hard in the end just like we are now. So I think they're proud of their efforts, and I'm proud of what we've gotten done together. We've had some great experiences together but a great collective effort. We've been committed to one another, so there are some special feelings going into this ballgame this weekend with this group of seniors.
Q. Indiana is really struggling against the run. You guys have been pretty effective the last couple games. What's clicked for your ground game here the last couple weeks?
DANNY HOPE: Sticking with it. You know, going into the ballgame against Illinois, we come in on Sunday night after we wrap up the last opponent, and we look at the film and I'm watching people try to run the football against Illinois and Illinois is turning them away. They're knocking them back and they're crossing the linebackers and blitzing and slanting the front and bringing all kinds of pressure, and it looked like it was going to be tough manufacture a run game on a lot of the run plays that I looked at.
But a lot of teams that have stuck with it were able to manufacture the run game as the game progressed, so I think we followed suit this past weekend where even though it wasn't easy early in the ballgame to establish the run game, we kept pounding away and eventually softened up enough to establish a run game.
So being committed to it. And then I think that we maybe early in the season, because we are such a fast football team, that we really tried to hang our hat on getting the ball on the perimeter not only in the passing game but in the running game, as well. We still do, we still want to get the ball outside with the great speed that we have on our football team, but we didn't have near as much north and south running game. I think we manufactured a little more run?right?at?'em north and south run game starting with the Ohio State game, and that allowed us to move the sticks and get 1st downs and compete against an outstanding defensive football team and allowed us to still be two?dimensional from an offensive standpoint. That hurt us some early in the season when we couldn't establish the run early and we couldn't stop them defensively, and the next thing you know we're behind by three scores and we haven't been out there very much.
So I think the downhill running game in addition to what we do running the ball east and west has made a difference to our run package.
Q. When you look at IU's passing offense, do you compare it at all to Marshall?
DANNY HOPE: Well, from a how many plays they try to get off and rapid?fire plays, hyper?speed tempo, the fact that the quarterback gets the ball out of his hand in a hurry, they're similar from that standpoint. But they don't empty out quite as much, have five wide receivers throwing it every single down. They will come out and manufacture a run game and present more of a threat with their run game than Marshall does, but similar in some ways.
Q. There's two undefeated teams left, and both had to survive Purdue at the last possible second. When you look back at that what does that say about this team? Do you look at that as indication of what this team is capable of?
DANNY HOPE: Well, we're a play away from being a lot better right now, a play away against Ohio State and a play away against Notre Dame from already being Bowl eligible and competing for an eight?, nine?, ten?win season potentially. Some opportunities there that we didn't cash in on, but great experiences. When you dream of playing college football, you dream of playing in big games with big crowds and beating great opponents.
So I think the experience of those games were fantastic. I think that that was outstanding experience for a college student athlete. It's a shame we couldn't have cashed in on a couple of those ball games because they could have been games that springboarded our season or impacted the outcome of the season this year. So some missed opportunities, but man, any time you can go down to those places and play them right to the wire, that's great football. Great football games. Just sorry we didn't win.