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Gold and Black Illustrated, Vol 28 Digital 3

Gold and Black is a multi-platform media company that covers Purdue athletics like no one else.

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GOLD AND BLACK ILLUSTRATED VOLUME 28, ISSUE 3 14 the game. The preparation was just amazing. And when we do things, it's (with) more of a purpose. It was more detailed now than it was before." And though Purdue entered November with a 3-5 record and was faced with what appeared to be insurmountable odds to reach its goal of a bowl game, the team kept fight- ing. And finished. Purdue won three of its four games in November, in- cluding beating Iowa in Iowa City and dominating rival In- diana in the regular-season finale to take the Bucket back for the first time since 2012. "One thing that I always find to be true is that the team takes on the personality of the head coach," said running back D.J. Knox. "So Coach Holt is a very aggressive defen- sive play-caller. Coach (Tony) Levine, aggressive special teams caller. Coach Brohm, aggressive offensive coordina- tor. When you're instilling those values and the team sees you acting in that way, that's the personality they're going to take on. "So we've always practiced hard from the first whistle to the last whistle. I know people watching our games can see that we love to play football, and we play hard. That's just second nature to us at this point. That's pretty much the mentality we've taken on from our coaches." The coaches should take loads of credit for the turn- around, players said. The seniors were grateful how Brohm told them early on he wanted to win now — in part, for them — instead of worrying about rebuilding, like some coaches would. He and his staff went out and proved that, fifth-year senior Danny Eze- chukwu said, by being egoless, by being willing to adjust and go off-script in terms of scheme and by bringing nearly unmatchable passion each day. When asked before the Indiana game, one win away from bowl eligibility then, how Purdue had gotten to that point, Ezechukwu simply said "the coaching staff." "They didn't doubt us for a minute," he said. "We don't practice to lose. We come out here to go win every game. We go out there to play hard, and we expect to win every game. We respect ev- ery opponent, but we have all the confidence in the world in ourselves, and I think that starts up top with our coaching staff." Players said all season feeling that belief from the staff helped them perform better. And, ultimately, so many players had career-type sea- sons to help transform the product on the field. On defense, one can almost go down the list: Seniors Ja'Whaun Bentley, Ezechukwu, Da'Wan Hunte and Gelen Robinson all registered career-high totals in multiple cat- egories. Bentley, alongside graduate transfer senior T.J. McCollum, made for a devastating combination in the mid- dle of Purdue's defense, thriving in Holt's aggressive, trig- ger-fast, downhill scheme that smothered opponents' run game (132.9 yards per game, No. 29 in FBS). Bentley had a career-best 97 tackles, including 10.5 for loss. McCollum, who missed essentially four games with an ankle injury, had 69 tackles (nearly eight per game) in his only season with the Boilermakers and brought a fierce, physical pres- ence. Ezechukwu and Robinson were moved to new positions and responded with strong seasons. Robinson, playing inside at tackle instead of end, may not have had higher sack totals than a year ago, but he regularly disrupted the backfield, flushed the quarterback and, perhaps most im- portantly, was so physically dominant that he kept offen- sive linemen from reaching Purdue's linebackers, allowing those players to make plays. His 12.5 TFLs led the team. Ezechukwu, playing a stand-up linebacker/defensive end hybrid, evolved in to one of Purdue's most effective pass rushers, logging a career-high five sacks, and also consis- Tom Campbell Elijah Sindelar's late-season surge in place of David Blough helped Purdue post its first winning season since 2011. And Sindelar did it while playing with a torn ACL.

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