Purdue is heading to mad-as-heck Wisconsin and coach Darrell Hazell has tapped into his inner Al Pacino.
No, not the “Scarface” Pacino who famously said, among other things, “You want to play rough? OK! Say hello to my little friend!”
No, not the “Godfather” Pacino who ruthlessly wiped out adversaries because, “It's not personal. It's strictly business.”
This is the inspirational Pacino from the football movie, “Any Given Sunday,” where he gives a classic speech heading into the climactic game that includes the line that, “Life is a game of inches, and so is football. And in either game, life or football, the margin for error is so small…”
Hazell, however, has upped the ante to a foot. That was the margin, he said, that separated the Boilers from beating Notre Dame last week, and could be the difference in Saturday's Big Ten opener at Camp Randall Stadium.
“We're in the business of winning,” Hazell says. “As you look at the (Notre Dame) film, we are a foot off in a lot of different areas. That means, knocking down a ball we're a foot away, catching a ball we're a foot away. A missed tackle on a kickoff, we're a foot away.
“We were a foot away from making a lot of plays. We need to find that foot this week. We've got to find it. Because that's the difference that makes the difference.”
Purdue (1-2) seeks a difference-making victory. It faces a Wisconsin team fueled by perceived transgression from a bizarre last play at Arizona State that cost it a shot at victory. The Pac-12 reprimanded the game officials for not allowing the Badgers to have a chance at a game-winning field goal.
“There's so much on the line with (just 12 games), it's tough to deal with,” Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen says. “But moving on is a big part of it, and it will not be a factor on how we play against Purdue.”
The Badgers (2-1) have beaten the Boilers seven straight times. Their powerhouse rushing attack includes three tailbacks averaging at least 6.6 yards per carry, led by Melvin Gordon's 12.9-yard average.
Purdue needs that foot, and more, to slow down them down.
“Physically, you see that foot,” Hazell says. “You see a guy reaching out and just missing a guy. He's got to take another step. Or a linebacker is scraping to a gap and he misses by a foot.
“Some of it is anticipation. Some of it is physical. Some of it is know your assignment. But that foot is so critical for us right now.”
The Boilers' 31-24 loss to Notre Dame, after leading 10-0 in the first half and 17-10 after three quarters, suggests they are ready for a breakthrough game, but doesn't guarantee it.
“Our guys didn't feel good about the outcome of that game, which is good,” Hazell said. “They're starting to get it.
“They know they are a good team. They know if they can find that one foot in their play, they've got a chance to be successful. We're in the first leg of a four-leg race. Don't measure it now. Evaluate the race at the end.”
Saturday's end could come down to how well the Boilers handle Camp Randall Stadium's intimidating atmosphere. In their last three trips there they've lost by 11, 37 and 45 points.
“We've got to get better,” Hazell says. “That's the whole key. We'll have adversity on Saturday. We've got to handle it.”
How do you handle it?
“It's all about preparation, Hazell says.
“If you have great anticipation of what's coming, that allows you to play freely and make plays. So we've got to keep preparing like crazy, and keep getting our minds sharper and sharper.
“It's about us believing in ourselves and having the confidence in the game plan, and then execute it.”
One foot at a time.