Numbers mean nothing to Purdue defensive end Greg Latta if they don't come from victory. He's clear about that. Individual achievement without team success is as relevant as helmets without face masks.
So what, Latta said in so many words, that he shared the team lead with seven tackles, contributed to a tackle for a loss, and broke up a pass from a position not known for pass coverage.
The Boilers (0-1) lost badly to Cincinnati. Now comes Saturday's home opener against Indiana State (0-1) and Latta isn't interested in talking stats.
“I don't care how I play,” he said. “If we win and I'm on the bench, that's fine. If I have a million tackles and we win, that's fine. In the end, if we win, I'm happy with it. If we don't win, I'm not happy with it.”
Latta, a senior in his first year as a starter, has not been happy the last six days or so. He has a lot of Boiler company. The 42-7 loss to Cincinnati was a real mood spoiler
So there are two keys. Well, there are more than that, but let's focus on two of the bigger ones for the defense.
Get off the field
“Don't let any third down be a problem,” Latta said. “Just get off the field. Don't let them keep driving on us.”
And then …
“It was the first game. Guys were uptight. It was nerves. Just take a deep breath. Take it play by play. Don't worry about the score, just what's the next play.”
It's easy to say that a few days removed from a debacle, when game film has been reviewed and a new game plan has been introduced.
But to move forward, you sometimes have to look back.
“It was dumb …. mental errors we knew we can fix,” Latta said. “We knew what we were supposed to do, but once you get in the fire, it didn't happen. We can fix things. We can right the ship.”
Purdue must fix a lot of things and it starts with willpower.
“(Against Cincinnati), it was kind of a, 'Here we go again kind of thing from the past,'” Latta said. “We have to be mentally tough. We can't let things be the same. We want them to change.”
How do you change?
“It's coming together more as a team. Pick each other up.”
The Cincinnati loss could have rocked Purdue's confidence. That it did not, coach Darrel Hazell said, bodes well for Saturday, and beyond.
“The biggest thing for us is to play with a tremendous amount of confidence, no matter what the situation is.”
Part of that, Hazell added, is to avoid scoreboard watching.
“It doesn't matter what the scoreboard says or what the clock says. You've just got to play. If you do, everything else will take care of itself. If you don't, and I've seen this, you get paralyzed by the scoreboard. That doesn't allow you to unlock your potential.”
In other words, when adversity hits, and it will, don't get overwhelmed by it.
“You have to respond when those situations happen, respond in a positive way, and encourage each other,” Hazell said.
“At some point the offense is going to struggle and the defense has to pick them up. At another point the defense will struggle and the offense has to pick them up. That's part of the game. Make sure we support each other in tough situations because that's how you move through them.”
Indiana State, which gets $400,000 for playing at Purdue after getting $450,00 for playing at Indiana, will arrive looking to bounce back from its 73-35 loss to the Hoosiers.
Hazell expects nothing less.
“That was an uncommon thing to get beat by as much as they did. But if you watch the film, there were a lot of things where they self-destructed on special teams. They gave up a lot of big plays, which allowed the game to get out of hand pretty quick.
“I'm sure they'll play better. They have good players. But it's about us playing the way we are capable of playing more than anything.”
Sycamores coach Mike Sanford said tailback Shakir Bell is a game-time decision after hurting his shoulder against Indiana. In one half he rushed for 113 yards against a defense fired up to stop him.
Without Bell, the Sycamores had no rushing attack. The rest of the team gained 18 yards in 21 carries.
That might leave the major offensive burden on quarterback Mike Perish, who struggled against Indiana. He was 11-for-29 for 118 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He was sacked four times.
Bell's status leaves the Boilers uncertain what to expect from Indiana State.
“They want to run,” Hazell said, “but I'm not sure if they are going to continue to try to run or get it out of their hands as quick as they can.”