Purdue's Higgins steps up for ailing Nord

Football coaches always talk about "next man in." They typically refer to players stepping up for an injured teammate.

But Purdue head coach Danny Hope needed one of his assistants to answer the bell last week. Offensive coordinator Gary Nord suffered a back injury Wednesday and needed to be hospitalized. The Boilers needed a primary offensive play-caller and turned to wide receivers coach Patrick Higgins.

The result: a 27-24 Purdue win at Iowa that snapped a five-game losing streak. The Boilers racked up 27 first downs and 490 yards, 109 more yards than they had recorded in any of their previous Big Ten contests.

Hope and other staff members helped with the play-calling, but Higgins took the lead. He's hardly a novice, having called plays as UTEP's offensive coordinator from 2000-03 when Nord served as the Miners' head coach.

"Coach Higgins is an experienced play-caller," Hope said. "... There wasn't a whole lot of change. Patrick obviously has some of his own play-calling style, but the game plan didn't change, and the staff has worked together before, so it was an easy transition and Patrick did a fine job."

Higgins will lead the offensive staff meetings this week with Nord still recovering from his injury and unable to be in the office. Hope expects Higgins to again call plays Saturday when Purdue visits Illinois. The overall structure of the offense didn't change at Iowa and won't despite Nord's absence.

"He's very good at it and outstanding with clock management and very bright," Hope said of Higgins. "We've got a good play-caller, and he's got a good handle on it, and we're going about our business in the normal fashion."

Nord, 55, has what Hope called "a severe back injury."

"Just like the players, he's doubtful for the game," Hope said. "That's his status."