Safety Landon Feichter sees the big picture. Purdue has a last chance to make a lasting football impression. Danny Hope is gone, a new coaching era is a week or so away from really starting and it's time to finish what was started the right way.
“We want to go into the offseason with a winning record,” Feichter said. “You're judged by how you play last, how you're seen last. It's another motivation.”
The Boilers (6-6) have plenty of motivation as they brace for offensive-minded Oklahoma State (7-5) in Tuesday's Heart of Dallas Bowl. They want to win for themselves, for the fired Hope and for the current coaches who have prepared them for this opportunity.
“It would be great to go 7-6 rather than 6-7,” said Feichter, a former Bishop Dwenger standout. He leads Purdue in tackles (76) and is tied for the Big Ten lead in interceptions (four), impressive stuff for a walk-on who won't be on scholarship until next semester.
“We know Oklahoma State has a very elusive offense,” he said. “They're in the top tier in the country with the passing and rushing yards. We know we'll have our hands full, but we're up for the challenge. We're hoping to show the Big 12 what the Big Ten is all about.”
They'll go for it with a defense that was long on talent, short on production. Injuries were a factor in the Boilers' season-long defensive inconsistency. But they've regained their health during the five-week layoff since their regular-season-ending win over Indiana. They'll need every edge to stop Oklahoma State's 44-point attack.
“They're a real versatile offense,” cornerback Ricardo Allen said. “They can run. They can throw. They're really good. They're a better Marshall.”
The good news -- Purdue beat Marshall last September. The bad news – it gave up 41 points to do it.
Oklahoma State used three quarterbacks -- Clint Chelf, Wes Lunt and J.W. Walsh -- during the regular season because of injuries. All three are healthy and could play. Chelf is set to start.
They combined to produce the nation's seventh-best passing attack (333.4 yards a game). Tailback Joseph Randle led the Big 12 in rushing with 1,351 yards and 14 touchdowns. He's a big reason why the Cowboys ranked No. 22 nationally in rushing (215.0 yards).
Add a potent receiving corps led by Josh Steward (96 catches, 1,154 yards, 7 touchdowns), Charlie Moore (31 catches, 500 yards, 5 TDs) and Blake Jackson (a team-leading 20.2 yards with his 28 catches), plus a solid offensive line, and you have a huge challenge.
“That's the problem they present, my sleeping habits have changed,” interim coach Patrick Higgins said. “I don't sleep. They are very skilled offensively. They have three quarterbacks who have played well. They've got a running back who is very good. They've got playmakers out on the edge. They've got a good line. What more do you want offensively?”
Oklahoma State lost its final two games to fall out of the polls it had occupied for much of the season. But that doesn't fool Higgins.
“Defensively they do a good job. They're 38th in the country against the run. They make it hard to run. They're trying to make you one-dimensional. They're a very formidable opponent. A quality team. They present a lot of problems for us.”
The Boilers will present their own problems, starting with quarterback Robert Marve, who has shaken off a torn ACL to have the best season of his six-year college career. He's thrown for 1,522 yards, 13 touchdowns and three interceptions while completing 66.2 percent of his passes.
Eight receivers have caught at least 13 passes. They are led by Antavian Edison (57 catches, 622 yards, eight touchdowns), O.J. Ross (51 catches, 425 yards, two touchdowns) and Gary Bush (41 catches, 360 yards, seven TDs).
Ralph Bolden is set to return at running back. He's overcome the hamstring injury that sidelined him for the victory over Indiana, plus the torn ACL that cost him much of this season. He's rushed for 310 yards. Akeem Shavers has rushed for a team-leading 778 yards and six touchdowns.
Purdue arrived in Dallas on Friday, and had time to attend a Dallas Mavericks NBA game that night. On Saturday the team practiced for 70 minutes, then split up to participate in several events. Some Boilers volunteered at the North Texas Food Bank to package food and prepare it for distribution. Other players helped out at a football skills youth camp.
The Boilers are participating in their 16th bowl game. They've won nine of them, including last year's Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl in Detroit.
But that won't matter on Tuesday. Beating Oklahoma State will.
“Winning this game is very important,” Shavers said. “Just getting to a bowl isn't enough. We want to show the world we are competitors and can compete with anybody when we're ready to play.”