WEST LAFAYETTE – Purdue's Ricardo Allen ain't messing around. He's not at the Heart of Dallas Bowl to get some free gifts and take in a few sights.
The junior corner back says he wants the challenge. He wants to face the best because he wants to prove he's the best, evey play, every second.
So what that Oklahoma State receiver Josh Steward has caught 96 passes for 1,154 yards and seven touchdowns. Allen wants a piece of him in Tuesday's matchup at the Cotton Bowl. And if Steward takes a break, Allen wants Charlie Moore, the No. 2 receiver with 31 catches for 500 yards and five touchdowns. And if they're both out, bring on Blake Jackson, who averages a team-leading 20.2 yards with his 28 catches.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Steward is first on Allen's list.
“I want him all the time. That's how it goes. Because I'm a nickel back and he's a slot receiver, I'll have him every time.”
Steward is just the latest in a long line of good receivers Allen has faced this season. He's won and lost his share, which comes with the defensive back territory.
“I know the dude I'm going against is really good,” Allen says. “It will be a good matchup.
“I've gone against a couple of good wide receivers this season. He will be one of the them. When the ball is in the air, whoever is working the hardest on that play will come down with it.”
Oklahoma State (7-5) boasts an explosive offense that averages 44.7 points a game. The Cowboys rank seventh nationally in passing (333.4 yards) and 22nd nationally in rushing (215.0). It's the passing attack that will get the bulk of Allen's attention.
“That's always a plan as a DB, that you're going to get a lot of action,” Allen says. “It might give the receiver a chance to catch the ball, but it also gives you a chance to catch it. Once the ball is in the air, it's one of ours. Whoever is working harder will get it.”
Allen has worked hard enough to earn All-Big Ten second-team honors. He has one interception, which he returned 39 yards for a touchdown against Marshall. That gave him a school record four interception returns for TDs. He's broken up three passes and defended four others. He's also forced a fumble, totaled 44 tackles and returned one punt for 25 yards.
But those are just numbers. What Allen really wants is a victory to give Purdue (6-6) its second straight winning record and provide winning closure for former coach Danny Hope, who was fired after the Nov. 24 season-ending victory over arch-rival Indiana.
“Winning this is important to finish for Coach Hope, to finish for these seniors and these coaches,” he says. “And it's better to wear a bowl ring in a game you won than one you didn't.”
For the record, players get bowl rings no matter the game's outcome.
Also for the record, the Heart of Dallas Bowl ranks near the bottom of the bowls that the Big Ten and the Big 12 are affiliated with. While there has been some disappointment expressed by the Cowboys, the Boilers are just thankful for the opportunity.
“It's always a blessing to go to a bowl,” Allen says. “Even though it's a border-line bowl, to go to a bowl is what you work for. You wake up every day in the spring and summer with that goal. You don't wake up wanting to have a regular season and go home.”
Hope's firing has left Purdue's remaining coaches in job limbo. New coach Darrell Hazell is in the process of hiring a new staff.
“We're getting stronger as a team,” Allen says about the coaching situation's effect on the players. “The coaching staff here is doing a great job. They haven't slowed down yet. You can tell what kind of crew we have. It motivates us. It makes us better.”
Hazell is focused on Kent State's GoDaddy.com Bowl appearance next month, but he will look at the Heart of Dallas Bowl as part of his evaluation process with returning players. But Allen says the players aren't looking at the game as a way to audition for next season.
“We just come out and play,” he says. “We have to finish this season before we think about next season.
“When it comes to off-season workouts and spring practice, that will be our chance to audition. Right now, we have these coaches and this team, and we want to finish with a bang. That's how we're looking at it.”
This week's weather forced Purdue to call off practice on Wednesday. The team practiced on Thursday. Seven players from Texas, including starters Ryan Russell and Akeem Shavers, joined the team when it arrived in Dallas on Friday.
The five-week layoff will give Purdue the chance to do what it hasn't done since September -- play with a healthy team.
“I love the time off,” Allen says. “When we're a healthy team, we're really good. We had a couple of bangs and nicks. This gives us a chance to get healthy. Now you'll see our D-line at full go, our linebackers at full go, our quarterbacks and offensive line at full go.”