Year two of the Purdue football rebuild under coach Darrell Hazell is under way. The Boilermakers were forced to suffer through a 1-11 season in 2013, with the lone win being a close game against an FCS team.
It was the worst season in program history. In 12 games, the defense managed to give up 456 points while the offense managed a mere 179 points. Hazell has his work cut out for him and year two doesn’t appear to be any easier.
Purdue has the 43rd toughest schedule in the country. While the non-conference schedule isn’t particularly difficult, but three of the teams finished with a better record than the Boilers.
In the Big Ten, Purdue will face two opponents who finished near the bottom of the conference: Illinois and Northwestern. Outside of those two teams (and an IU team they gave up 56 points to last season) every other opponent had a .500 record or better in conference play last season.
It’s hard not to be concerned with just about every aspect of the offense. The offensive line is rebuilding. There is a serious lack of wide receivers. The quarterback is young. The running backs are talented, but
Purdue made a switch at quarterback mid-season last year to young Danny Etling. He showed a lot of promise, and a better understanding of the play book, in seven games. He threw 10 touchdowns but had seven interceptions and was sacked a staggering 31 times.
The offensive line is going to have to get tougher. Especially since Hazell is seen as something of a rushing guru. They have big question marks at tackle and will rely on a pair of JUCO transfers to help rectify the problem. If the line doesn’t stop being a turnstile, Etling will get killed again and Purdue will have another season where no one rushes for more than 500 yards.
At receiver, there is a lot of talent but a severe lack of experience. Sophomore DeAngelo Yancey led the team in receiving yards (17.2 per catch) despite missing two games. The senior of the group, tight end Justin Sinz, led the team in receptions with 41 and touchdowns at four. As we said, there is talent here but they need to get better as a group and hope Etling has a chance to find them.
The lack of identity on this side of the ball doesn’t seem to help either. Hazell has a history of interesting rushing attacks, but with Purdue appears to want to run an almost spread offense. The problem is that the Boilers don’t have the personnel to do either one. Something that results in more than a three-and-out would be an improvement this year.
If the offensive line improves, if Etling makes a bit of jump in his play, and if the receivers progress then this offense could sneak up on teams in 2014. But there are a lot of issues to address first.
What will this defense look like without Ricardo Allen? He was the lone player to consistently show up for games (six interceptions) and now he’s in the NFL.
The defense was particularly bad on third down last season, allowing opponents to convert on 57-percent of attempts. That number put them at the bottom of the NCAA. Just getting off the field half the time would be an improvement.
The recruiting class was heavy on defensive backs, which is interesting since pass defense was the one aspect of the team that wasn’t a complete dumpster fire. What will this team will need is more consistent play across the board at all the other positions.
Purdue will have to have a few players step up or at least live up to their potential, like DE/OLB Ryan Russell. He has the potential to be a dominant pass rusher but is so inconsistent that its maddening. He can dominate a play and then be completely invisible the next. He had 5.5 tackles for losses and two sacks last season.
The bigger problem may be that Purdue lost the few playmakers they actually had. Someone will have to have a breakout season to turn this defense around in 2014.
This season isn’t going to be pretty. There is every reason to believe that Purdue will improve over last season, but that could mean they win two games. If Purdue can’t beat Western Michigan (another 1-11 team in 2013) there is a very real chance they won’t win a single game.
That said, the worst team in the Big Ten should still beat the second worst team in the MAC. Ideally, Purdue will go 3-1 in non-conference play and then pull off an upset win or two in the Big Ten.
This Boilermakers team will have a few surprise players and a more efficient offense in 2014. The defense probably won’t get much better, if at all. But with a more competitive offense Purdue will win a few more games, but don’t expect the win total to creep much past three.