BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Purdue interim coach Gerad Parker pretty much knew his fate long before Saturday's season finale.
He and the other Boilermakers coaches didn't expect to return to West Lafayette in 2017.
That didn't make this Old Oaken Bucket game any less important or the latest loss, 26-24 to Indiana, any easier to accept.
“We aimed big, we moved fast and we got better,” the emotional Parker said after losing for the sixth straight week since replacing the fired Darrell Hazell. “The ultimate stat of getting better is winning and I know that. Nobody knows that more than me. But I'll tell you this, this football team got better in the last six weeks. I believe that with every fiber of my body.”
Purdue (3-9, 1-8 Big Ten) certainly played better against its biggest rival than it did the previous six weeks — all losses, all by at least 13 points.
In the previous five games, the Boilermakers had been outscored 128-27 in the second half.
This time, they erased a 17-16 deficit with a 31-yard TD pass from David Blough to DeAngelo Yancey early in the third quarter. The two-point conversion attempt failed, but the Boilermakers kept the lead until Indiana's Devine Redding powered in from one yard out with 4:59 left to make it 26-22.
Purdue's last real chance fizzled when Blough was picked off in the end zone on fourth-and-14 from the Hoosiers' 27-yard line with 1:06 to go.
“We didn't get the wins that we wanted, but it's like Coach Parker said, we gritted our teeth, we came in ready to work, we didn't make any excuses,” senior defensive lineman Jake Replogle said. “I can't say enough for what Coach Parker's done. The motivation that he's brought day in and day out. I'm proud of what we've done in the past six weeks.”
It may not look good on paper.
Purdue finished the season with a seven-game losing streak and could not thwart the Hoosiers from hoisting the prized trophy for a fourth consecutive year. The only other time Indiana won four straight in the series came from 1944-47.
Inside the locker room and across the field, though, there were noticeable changes.
“I was very impressed with his leadership skills,” Indiana coach Kevin Wilson said. “I had a lot of respect for him before they arrived. He's done a great job and we're very, very fortunate and very, very happy to win that game.”
While the future of the Boilermakers program remains uncertain, there has been plenty of speculation about the next coach, much of it focusing on Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck.
But Purdue's players, coaches and even Parker believed they proved something in these last six weeks.
“I said we're going to have fun, we're going to run around, we're going to make it about the players,” Parker said. “When I lay my head down tonight and we walk off and get a chance to reflect, I would hope those guys say that's what we did.”