- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 14, 2014

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) - Purdue coach Darrell Hazell is starting to watch the pieces come together and likes what he sees.

Players seem to be on board with what the second-year head coach is trying to accomplish, Hazell says. They care, too, not just about what they’re doing on the field, but about one another. And over the first half of the season, Hazell has witnessed the Boilermakers develop a quality that many teams struggle to find - a bond and a chemistry among players.

“I feel like 99 percent of our football team has dove into the water,” Hazell said. “Last year we had a couple of guys sticking their toe in and couple of guys would jump in, but I think they’re all in right now and I think that’s why we’re seeing the progress that we’re seeing at the rate we’re seeing it.”

Despite losing to Michigan State 45-31 last week, Purdue (3-4, 1-2 Big Ten) is looking to capitalize on its progress and take it another step further Saturday at Minnesota. It’s a pivotal weekend for the Boilers: A win over the Golden Gophers (5-1, 2-0) would be Purdue’s fourth and two victories away from bowl eligibility.

The opportunity to make one is there, too. After Minnesota, Purdue has a bye week, a game at Nebraska, plays host to Wisconsin, then another bye week before taking on Northwestern at home on Nov. 22 before the regular-season finale at Indiana.

“That will give us a chance to rest our bodies a little bit and come out and be even more explosive than we have been,” receiver Danny Anthrop said. “I think this coming week is big because it will set the tone for the bye week and it will set the tone for the rest of the year because we just came off a big, emotional, hard-fought game.”

The thought of a bowl bid is too far down the road for Hazell, who instead wants to figure out how to close out more games. In last week’s loss, Purdue had a shot to at least force overtime before Austin Appleby threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown. And last month, the Boilermakers took first-half leads over Notre Dame and Iowa, but couldn’t score in the second half.

“That’s the next step that we have to take,” Hazell said. “We have to be able to finish football games, and getting close is not the answer.”

Sure, getting so close and falling apart is frustrating,

But with the Boilermakers showing they can stick with teams, perhaps Purdue will soon come through in a big way.

“Winning solves a lot of things, it really does,” Hazell said. “It brings teams together. We have the right mindset in our locker room right now. The guys really believe. They’re starting to trust each other more and more each week and their work ethic has been phenomenal.”

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