Let others debate the definition of what defines a Purdue successful season. Quarterback Robert Marve has no time for that. The objective is clear -- beat Illinois (2-8) on Saturday and Indiana (4-6) on Nov. 24 and it is bowl eligible.
“A bowl game is a big deal,” Marve said. “It's about having success or not having success. It's a huge deal. We still can have a successful season, not the season we had in mind, but a season that people can look back and be proud of how we bounced back.”
Losing their first five Big Ten games left the Boilers (4-6), who once talked of Rose Bowl possibilities, with zero margin for bounce-back error to qualify for the postseason. Last Saturday's dramatic win at Iowa (freshman Paul Griggs won it with a 46-yard field goal as time expired) gave them a chance they don't want to blow.
“We're in the type of situation where we're in the playoffs,” Marve said. “Every game is a big one
“Sometimes you get your back against wall, and maybe you learn from your last games, maybe it's a combo of everything. There comes a time where a team has to say we're going to be good or we're going to be OK with losing.
“I think we're turning it around.”
Marve personifies comeback possibilities. He's overcome multiple injuries and a quarterback rotation that left him No. 2 behind starter Caleb TerBush.
The rotation is history. Marve is the starter and will remain so as long as his battered body -- specifically an ACL-torn knee -- can stand it. In the victory over Iowa he was 25-for-33 for 266 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Does coach Danny Hope have any regrets about not going with Marve sooner?
“He is quite a force, but we had a quarterback (TerBush) that started 13 games the previous season, and we had a wining season. We had a good, winning, experienced quarterback coming back.
“It came about as it did, and a lot of that had to do with factors beyond our control, but we always thought Robert was a heck of a player. We wanted to get Robert ready and see if he could make a difference. As he got healthier and got more reps and played better, he certainly can, and he certainly is.”
Marve's big game came with a new play-caller after offensive coordinator Gary Nord suffered a back injury last week that sent him to the hospital and prevented him from making the trip to Iowa. Receivers coach Patrick Higgins took over as the play-caller and the result was 490 total yards, 109 more than Purdue's previous Big Ten high.
Marve said Higgins was ready for the challenge.
“He's a very organized person. When he came in, X, Y and Z was on the table for me and all the quarterbacks. It was like, this is what we're going to do, and these are the plays we like in this situation. He was very vocal and clear about it.
“He did a great job of keeping me patient the whole game, but flexible enough to put me in situations to make plays.”
With Nord doubtful for Saturday, Higgins again figures to handle the play-calling, something he did while serving as the offensive coordinator at UTEP.
“Coach Higgins is an experienced play-caller,” Hope said. “He's outstanding with clock management. We're going about our business in the normal fashion.”
That means finding a way to beat the Big Ten's worst team. Illinois has set the conference standard for ineptitude. It has has scored just 63 points in six conference games. It averages 4.42 yards per play, which is next to last in the nation behind Maryland's 4.37 yards. It averages 298.5 total yards a game, that ranks No. 115 nationally. It is last in scoring offense and next to last in scoring defense.
Still, the Illini cannot be overlooked, Hope said.
“They're very, very talented on defense. They bring a lot of pressure. They create a real challenge for your offensive front. Their quarterback (Nathan Scheelhaase) is a great athlete, an experienced player. They have a big, talented offensive line with good size, some skill makers on the perimeter.
“You don't look at the scoreboard. You watch them play and you realize it will be a challenge because they're very talented and they play hard.”
Added Marve: “Illinois still seems like it's hungry. We have to play our best game. There's no excuse not to.”