Previewin' the B1G: Purdue

By Kyle Rowland on May 4, 2014 at 6:00a
18 Comments

Year 1 of the Darrell Hazell era at Purdue didn’t inspire hope for a return to the Joe Tiller days. The Boilermakers went through decades of losing before Tiller arrived in the 1990s, recruited Drew Brees and took Purdue to the Rose Bowl.

Before Tiller rescued the moribund program, Purdue had appeared in just five bowl games in its history. In the past 17 seasons, the Boilermakers have been bowling 12 times, including the Granddaddy of ‘Em All and three other New Year’s Day extravaganzas.

But the past two seasons have resulted in a combined record of 7-18 without a sniff of the postseason. The Boilermakers bottomed out last year – Hazell’s first – by going 0-8 in the Big Ten and only winning once overall, against FCS foe Indiana State. It was Purdue’s worst season in two decades.

Despite the horror story, there’s optimism in West Lafayette as the school year winds down. There are significant questions on both sides of the ball, especially quarterback and offensive line. But that didn’t stop Hazell from seeing progress during spring practice.

“The biggest thing is that we came out healthy,” a happy Hazell said post-spring. “Our guy’s concentration and willingness to listen and get better each and every practice, I can’t be more proud than I am of this football team right now.”

Live it. Learn it. Love it. That became Purdue’s mantra this spring. And, according to Hazell, the abided by it. He noticed changed attitudes and a far different level of play compared to his first spring.

“The big difference is how well they run to the ball,” Hazell said. “I also think they are playing a lot more confident right now. Maybe that’s because they are one year into the scheme and the system. Maybe it is because they feel better about themselves and about the coaching staff. They are playing a lot more relaxed and are making a lot more plays than they did at this time last year.”

Any visions of Pasadena – or any bowl for that matter – are premature, though. The spring game featured sluggish offenses and an underwhelming offensive line that must improve drastically before it faces the Big Ten’s overpowering defensive units. 

Purdue’s schedule is more navigable this season, with three soft non-conference games and no Ohio State, Michigan or Penn State. But a 12-7 final score led fans of opposing teams to mock the Boilermakers. Sophomore quarterback Danny Etling paid little attention to detractors.

  2014 Purdue Schedule
Aug. 30 Western Michigan
Sept. 6 Central Michigan
Sept. 13 at Notre Dame
Sept. 20 Southern Illinois
Sept. 27 Iowa
Oct.4 at Illinois
Oct.11 Michigan State
Oct.18 at Minnesota
Oct. 25 Off Week
Nov. 1 at Nebraska
Nov. 8 Wisconsin
Nov. 15 Off Week
Nov. 22 Northwestern
Nov. 29 at Indiana

As a true freshman, Etling was thrust into the starting quarterback job midway through the season. Purdue didn’t win a single game he started, but Etling completed over 55 percent of his passes and tossed 10 touchdowns against seven interceptions in eight games. He averaged more than 200 yards passing per game.

But the spring game gave way to David Blough, a true freshman Texan who is aiming to be another Brees. He outplayed both Etling and Austin Appleby, providing the offensive highlight of the day with a 41-yard touchdown pass. Still, Etling left the spring as the favorite to start the season opener against Western Michigan. And he exited with confidence in the players around him.

Said Etling: “The offensive line has gotten better and better. Raheem Mostert has been running downhill better and better. The receivers have done better blocking downfield and blocking for each other. The quarterbacks are doing a good job distributing the ball and making defenses try to defend the whole field.”

Taking pressure off the quarterbacks is the senior-laden backfield of Mostert and Akeem Hunt. Mostert’s played sparingly in three seasons, but averages more than five yards per carry. Hunt owns over 1,500 yards of offense and nine touchdowns.  

Neither was particularly successful in a spring game dominated by the defense. Defensive end Ryan Russell recorded 11 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and a forced fumble. He spent more time in the backfield than Mostert and Hunt.

“It was a good spring for me, just putting everything together,” Russell said. “Having another year with this coaching staff has been great for everybody. Just concentrating on the small details for me has been very good and helped me fine tune my game some more.”

The coming season could give way to Russell becoming a household name in the Big Ten. He’s the clear leader of the Boilermaker defense and is next in line after Ryan Kerrigan and Kawann Short – Purdue defensive linemen who excelled and climbed up NFL draft boards.

“We challenged him going into this spring and he has responded well,” Hazell said. “He needs to be an impact player for us in the fall. If he can do that, that’ll be huge for us because if you can get a one-on-one pass rusher in your front line then you have some great things going on.”

Russell is no stranger to expectations and is well versed on Purdue’s recent history of churning out accomplished defensive ends. Much of the season could feature mismatches for Russell, which could give Purdue an edge defensively. He commented on how the game’s as much mental as physical.

After the spring game, chances are he and fellow defenders are in a positive state of mind. The Boilermakers tallied 10 tackles for loss, seven sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles.

“Going up against [Russell] every single day in practice, you get tired of him always in the backfield. He’s going to be a great player for us this season,” Etling said. “I think his motor is just going two-fold since last season.

“I feel sorry for any other quarterback who has to go against him.”

But opponents might welcome a matchup with Etling.

18 Comments

Comments

Buckeye5000's picture

Seems like it's going to be another long season for the Boilermakers. As much as I like Coach Hazell and think he is a quality coach, President Obama should declare the program in West Lafayette a National Disaster area.

Go Bucks!

+1 HS
LouGroza's picture

They could not have an easier schedule than that one. Better take advantage of it.

FROMTHE18's picture
Man they are bad.

 

+7 HS
nm_buck's picture

this will be the least read of the 12

+1 HS
RBuck's picture

14 now.

"It's just another case of there you are". ~ Doc (1918-2012)

+1 HS
nm_buck's picture

Dang.  Forgot about R & M.  +1

Horvath22's picture

We're pulling for you, Darrell

+1 HS
misterpants's picture

I like their chances against 'Off Week.'

+2 HS
Riggins's picture

Hoping Hazell gets a fair shake.  I was surprised when he jumped at the Purdue job,  I thought he would hold out another year or so for a mid-tier job.

ShowThemOhiosHere's picture

Improvement?  So they're going to win 3 games this year instead of 1?

Class of 2010.

ziplock007's picture

Ok, they went 0-8 in the B1G, only winning a 6 point victory over Indiana State... and you say...

It was Purdue’s worst season in a decade.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2003_Purdue_Boilermakers_football_team

Umm... I think you meant two decades.  In 1993 Purdue went 1-10, winless in the B1G and only beat Western Mich.

In 2003 Purdue finished the year ranked 18/19 in the polls.  They lost to OSU in OT (ok, they always overplayed against OSU).

Yeah, Purdue ain't been great, but even a sole non-conference win doesn't happen that  often.

It took 5 minutes to fact check, you should really look up simple accessible facts rather than guessing.

-1 HS
Kyle Rowland's picture

Time passing so quickly that I think 1993 was 10 years ago instead of 2003.

Jpfbuck's picture

I'll go one step further, this was not only the worst team since 1993 ie 20 years, it was their worst team on over 100 years

as you noted in 1993 they did beat a FBS level team. the last time Purdue lost every game against FBS level schools was in 1907

even in that lousy 1993 team there were often somewhat competitive with average score in their games being 27-18 and losing 7 of their games that year by 2 scores or less.

this past season besides going winless in all those games they also lost by an average score of 40-14, they had only 3 games like that this year, which means they lost 8 games in which they were more than 16 down at the end of the game ie not remotely competitive

I too liked Hazell when he was here but he seemed like a stretch pick as HC at the time and they were hoping they were catching fire on a bottle and frankly might have over paid for him as he ranks 6th in pay in the conference just slightly behind Pelini and Fitzgerald and ahead of Dantonio, Anderson, Wilson, Beckman and Kill, plus our 2 newbies MD and Rutgers

Yes his schedule this year is a bit easier than last year but if he goes winless in conference again, (a distinct possibility) he may be fired and I would have to say rightly so

+2 HS
woodcocklives@osu's picture

If you know a little about Coach Hazell and his philosophies, you'd understand why last year was a throw away season.....its a complete culture make over. What he did at Kent State was unprecedented. ...I fully expect a competitive Purdue squad this year. He's just too great of a leader to get lesser results.

DBell8's picture

I feel like 4-8 is very achieveable for Purdont

Oneida54's picture

Hazell = Beckman that is all

 

woodcocklives@osu's picture

Great insight, and well reasoned. Thanks.

Jpfbuck's picture

If I look at Purdue's schedule I only see a couple wins

Western Mich should be a win 0 if not they should fire Hazell that night

CMU is a toss up. They were a .500 team last year and yes Purdue gets them at home, but CMU played N Ill closer last year than Purdue did 38-17 vs 55-24 that's 21 vs 31 point loss

Notre Dame will be a loss

Southern Illinois is a much better FCS team than Indiana St was last year (Purdue's one lone win by 7) and they beat Indiana St by 22 to close their season last year, and played Illinois to the last minute losing by 8, so to me until Purdue shows something this is a toss up too

I wouldn't make them a favorite in any conference game as they have the 3 weakest teams on their schedule on the road (Minny, Indiana and Illinois)

 

if I had to guess they get a bit better and beat CMU and S Ill but go winless again in conference with 1 win at most

so best case I see 4-8, worst case is 1-11 or 2-10

is 3-9 and winless in conference enough to keep his job? if so then Purdue has set the bar very low and I think that is very possible