- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 29, 2015

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) - Purdue played a rugged non-conference schedule and lost three of its four games.

Now comes the real question: Has it made the Boilermakers more battle-tested for No. 2 Michigan State this weekend or has it cost them confidence?

Purdue (1-3) is the only Big Ten team under .500 heading into conference play, but along with Michigan and Nebraska, a case could be made that the Boilermakers played a challenging September schedule. They lost at Marshall and at home to Virginia Tech and Bowling Green.

Coach Darrell Hazell, 5-23 in his third season with the Boilermakers, said Tuesday that the September schedule will help in Big Ten play, beginning Saturday on the road.

“You look at the film, and all of a sudden, you realize how close you are to where you want to be,” Hazell said. “That is what you are seeing in our guys’ eyes in the locker room. We want to take that next step, and there are a lot of things in that next step.”

Purdue’s eight Big Ten opponents are a collective 27-5, including 15-1 from the four teams the Boilermakers will play on the road: Michigan State, No. 19 Wisconsin, No. 16 Northwestern and unbeaten Iowa.

Had Purdue played a softer non-conference schedule, Hazell said, the Big Ten journey would be even more challenging for the Boilermakers, who have not had a winning season since going 7-6 in 2011.

“We played three very good (non-conference) opponents,” Hazell said. “We played a very good running back at Marshall. We played a really good defense and very good special teams against Virginia Tech. Then, you throw in (Bowling Green’s) passing offense, which is really, really efficient. It’s going to help us down the road.”

Based on what he observed from his players when the team met Sunday night after losing 35-28 in the final 10 seconds on Saturday to Bowling Green, Hazell believes Purdue will be well prepared to play Michigan State.

“I think that they understand that some of those (non-conference) opponents are pretty good,” Hazell said. “Very good, not pretty good.”

Purdue sophomore linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley, who leads the team in tackles with 40, said the Boilermakers understand that they will be better prepared for the Big Ten grind.

“We have a good locker room with a ton of leaders,” Bentley said. “We know we are not mentally out of it. We are just having execution problems. We have correctable issues that we can control and change.”

Purdue’s confidence also should be bolstered by the play of freshman quarterback David Blough, who completed 29 of 39 passes for 340 yards and two touchdowns in his first start last week against Bowling Green. He replaced junior Austin Appleby, who was intercepted six times in the first three games.

Blough said he can play better.

“There definitely are some corrections that need to be made,” Blough said, “We need to figure out how to finish a game.”

Purdue has not beaten Michigan State since a 17-15 victory on Nov. 4, 2006, in East Lansing.


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