WEST LAFAYETTE -- Ricardo Allen has it figured out. Purdue's senior cornerback knows what to do to lock the Boilers into winning mode. It's not a secret. That's left for the mystery that is the end of the Wisconsin-Arizona State game.
What does that have to do with Saturday's Big Ten opener between Purdue and Wisconsin?
Hold that thought.
Allen and the rest of the Boilers are tired of defeat. Losing close to Notre Dame wasn't the objective. They are 1-2 with one nonconference game remaining, Sept. 28 against Northern Illinois.
But first comes Wisconsin (2-1) steaming from victory-turned-loss in the Arizona desert. Purdue is a three-touchdown underdog for the second straight week. It nearly turned that into an upset of Notre Dame, but that was in the sold out confines of Ross-Ade Stadium.
Saturday, the Boilers will be at Camp Randall Stadium. They face another Wisconsin running powerhouse -- tailback Melvin Gordon leads the Big Ten with 477 rushing yards and a 12.9 yard-per-carry average -- and their own growing pains. They have lost seven straight times to the Badgers. The last three times they played at Camp Randall Stadium, they lost by 11, 37 and 45 points.
Those numbers aren't part of Purdue's preparations. Coach Darrell Hazell pushes consistency, effort, confidence and perspective. He wants a business approach where players don't get too emotionally high or low.
Allen understands that. He has a lot of reasons to be low, mostly because of the 82-yard fourth-quarter touchdown pass to DaVaris Daniels he gave up that proved so costly. But he looks beyond that and a brutal schedule that has some wondering if the Boilers will win another game.
Hogwash, he says, in so many words.
“We can do great things,” he says. “We have to make plays when they're there. We have to make them.
“We had a couple of dropped balls. Dropped interceptions. When it's third and down, we have to get off the field.
“The coaching staff is doing great. They take us through everything. We played that (Notre Dame) game twice before we got there. That's one of our strongest points."
There are other strong points. Rob Henry is getting closer to being a difference-making quarterback. Against Notre Dame he was 25-for-40 for 256 yards and his first three touchdown passes of the season. Yes, he threw a fourth-quarter interception that was returned for a touchdown, but he figures to learn from that mistake.
“I wish I hadn't thrown that pass. I wish I had gone to my second read, my third read. That was the difference in the game,” he says.
“I think we're all continuing to learn and get comfortable with each other and get comfortable with this offense. I think everyone will continue to see us improve. We have the talent. We have the guys on the team who are good enough for this to be a really good offense.”
One of those guys is receiver/returner B.J. Knauf. He's become a big-play threat with a big-time tattoo on his big right bicep.
But we digress.
Knauf caught four passes for 51 yards, including an 18-yard touchdown, against Notre Dame. He rushed twice for six yards and had 68 yards on kickoff returns.
Not enough, he said.
"I'd say my performance was mediocre," he says. "Even though I scored, I wasn't really pleased with some other aspects of my game. I'm still learning a lot. It was an improvement from the last game, so as long as I'm improving each game, I'm somewhat happy."
Knauf is a natural to run jet sweeps as well as thrive at receiver. Purdue coaches wanted to get him more involved at the end of the Notre Dame game. They certainly will utilize him for Wisconsin, and beyond.
"There was an emphasis to do that,” Hazell says. “Even those last couple drives we were talking about things to get it in his hands because he can make some plays for us. We need to continue to do that."
The Boilers need to continue that, and more, against Wisconsin. They need to execute. They need to believe.
For the first time this season, they seem capable of doing it.