The Purdue Boilermakers were 6-7 last season after being badly beaten by Oklahoma State in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. The team was up and down in what would turn out to be Danny Hope’s final season. Despite going to two bowl games in a row, Hope was never seen as a long term answer at coach.
Enter Darrell Hazell, brought in from Kent State. Hazell posted a 16-10 record in two season at Kent State. In his second season, Hazell’s team 11-3 and 8-0 in the MAC.
The Boilermakers were inconsistent. They were four points away from defeating Notre Dame early in the season, but when Big Ten play began, the team suffered a five game losing streak. They gained bowl eligibility courtesy of a beat down of in-state rival IU in West Lafayette that improved the team to 6-6.
Hazell has adopted a business like approach, shedding the standard team polos in favor of suits. He has set the standards and expectations high for this team as they attempt to reach a third straight bowl game. It will be an uphill battle as Purdue has an extremely difficult schedule featuring four BCS teams (OK, Ohio State wasn’t a BCS team but they were undefeated), and number #18 Nebraska. They also open the season against Cincinnati which was 10-3 last season.
Fifth-year senior Rob Henry will take over the quarterback position for the Boilermakers. Henry hasn’t started since 2010, and was out all of 2011 with a torn ACL, but he did see snaps last season in certain situations in 2012. Coach Hazell stated that he won the job due to his ability to “get us in the right plays.” Last season saw Purdue utilize two primary quarterbacks Robert Marve and Caleb TerBush. Having one QB will provide stability in the huddle and improve consistency on the field.
Purdue was a run first team in 2012 totalling over 2,100 yards rushing, and in the same year Hazell had two running backs at Kent State break the 1,000 yard mark. The team’s leading rusher is gone leaving junior Akeem Hunt to start in the backfield. Hunt has the ability to be a playmaker, especially in the new offensive scheme. Last year he amassed 335 yards and two touchdowns on just 42 carries. Hunt also caught 13 passes for 204 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He makes the most out of his opportunities and will excel this season.
Wide receiver is a big question mark on this team. Gary Bush is the team’s leading returning receiver, it would be O.J. Ross but he was suspended for the season back in February and left the program. So, who will fill in behind Bush? Junior Dolapo Macarthy looks to be the second option at receiver and has been productive in spring training and camp. This unit is lacking in both depth and experience and could be a problem going forward for the Boilermakers.
Make no mistake, this will be a run heavy offense that features a lot of between the tackles running. The passing game will be important, but look for it to feature a lot of passes to tight ends and the running backs.
On the line, the Boilermakers lost All-Big Ten DT Kawann Short. There is a lot of experience across the line, and with Short gone the talent shifts to the defensive ends. Junior Ryan Russell returns to the end of the line and will likely be joined by senior Greg Latta at the other end position. Junior Jalani Philips has been impressive and might allow for a rotation without any drop off in production. At defensive tackle, the team isn’t as talented but does have a lot of depth and size.
Junior Joe Gilliam returns to play middle linebacker, but its less clear who will play the outside positions. Seniors Will Lucas and Sean Robinson project to be the starters at outside linebacker. Robinson is a former quarterback, and Hazell is hoping that his knowledge and ability to break down plays will be advantageous on defense. Lucas started last season, but Robinson saw limited snaps.
The secondary may be one of the best in the Big Ten. Purdue gave up 21 passing touchdowns last season, with 10 of them coming against Marshall and Oklahoma State. Senior cornerback Ricardo Allen is very talented. His stats don’t jump out at you, but that is usually because he has his man so well defended that opposing QBs don’t even look his way. Juniors Landon Feichter and Taylor Richards return as the starting safeties and bring back 131 tackles and four interceptions between the two of them. Sophomore Frankie Williams will step in as the team’s second string cornerback. Williams played in the slot last year and finished with 44 tackles, two interceptions, and nine pass defenses.
The team appears to be very solid on defense. Depth might be an issue as there is a drop off in talent behind the starters, but overall it is a talented unit. If the secondary stays healthy, it will likely lead the conference.
With the difficult schedule, and questions on offense, it’s hard to see this team winning more than six games. That would still be enough for a bid to a bowl game, but it will take time for the team to adjust to Hazell in just one year.
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