Purdue had looked like it was inching closer to competing in the Big Ten. The Boilermakers played very well last week at Penn State and might have won that game if not for some special teams breakdowns.
They finally got their breakthrough win on Saturday, beating No. 23 Illinois 21-14 at home. It is the program's first victory over a ranked team since an upset of No. 7 Ohio State in 2009.
"It was huge," quarterback Caleb TerBush told ESPN.com in a postgame phone interview. "Illinois is a ranked team and very athletic, so they're definitely dangerous. With it being homecoming and Boiler Nation coming in, we definitely knew we had to come in and pull out all the stops. And I feel like we did that."
TerBush was a big reason why. He threw for 178 yards and two touchdowns, and while Purdue's offense didn't score in the second half, he managed the game well. Maybe most importantly, he avoided any big mistakes that could have given the Illini a chance.
TerBush had been splitting reps with Robert Marve, but Marve didn't play against Illinois.
"The way we see it, we both can play," TerBush said. "It just happened that they stuck with me today."
Still, TerBush has established himself as a starter that the Boilers can win with. Remember he was thrust into the starter's role for the first time late in preseason practice when expected starter Rob Henry went down with a knee injury.
"Every game that goes by, I gain a little more confidence and get a little more comfortable," he said. "Things start slowing down for you and you understand the game a little more. The biggest thing for me is, I've been able to pick up those little things, like making checks to get us into good plays. And that's been working for us."
Purdue has hurt itself with mistakes in different aspects of the game this season, including penalties. Saturday's win was the most crisp the team has been in all three phases, and the defense led by tackle Kawann Short registered a season-high four sacks.
The Boilers are now 4-3 and 2-1 in the Big Ten, needing two more wins to get to a bowl game for the first time under third-year coach Danny Hope. The schedule doesn't do them any favors, as they have to play Michigan and Wisconsin on the road the next two times out, followed by a visit from Ohio State. But for the first time in a while, the program feels like it has a little momentum.
"This was a huge win at home," TerBush said. "Now we've go to go up to Ann Arbor next week and play just like we did today. And we'll see what happens."