WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Darrell Hazell has been busy since football camp opened earlier this month.
The new Purdue coach spent his first week installing the offense. This week, he’ll talk about execution. Next week, the message is anybody’s guess, but you can bet Hazell will have one. He always does.
The man who turned around Kent State’s moribund program is now trying to lay the foundation for a revival of Boilermakers football. Attendance has declined and the program is struggling to remain competitive with its Big Ten counterparts.
A year ago, the Boilermakers were supposed to contend for a league title. Instead, they finished fourth in the Leaders Division and Danny Hope was fired.
Hazell has a plan to fix all this, and he’s trying to be patient as the new philosophies take hold.
“I think they’ve done a great job of really just getting locked in and understanding the effort that it takes to get better,” he said about his team. “We have to keep getting better.”
Here are five keys to the Boilermakers season.
1. GETTING ACCLIMATED: Hazell came to West Lafayette with a mandate to change the direction of a program that has reached back-to-back bowl games but has mostly underachieved since Drew Brees led the 2000 Boilermakers to the Rose Bowl. The former Ohio State assistant is taking his can-do attitude to the field, where he expects all of his players to meet his unflinchingly high standards.
2. QUARTERBACK CRADLE: Here, it’s always been about quarterbacks. The succession line includes names such as Dawson, Griese, Danielson, Herrman, Everett and Brees. Who’s next? That’s what Hazell must first decide. The early favorite is Rob Henry, who started seven games in 2010, missed all of 2011 with a knee injury and returned last season. He threw only 38 passes in 2012 as he played multiple positions. But that’s 37 more attempts than the other four Purdue quarterbacks have thrown in college — combined. His toughest competition may come from true freshman Danny Etling, a midyear enrollee who the Boilermakers are hoping adds his name to the long line of big-time quarterbacks.
3. THE TURNOVER: Hazell knows his players must make ball protection a major emphasis. In 2012, the Boilermakers were one of only three Big Ten schools with a negative turnover margin to make a bowl game. They averaged 2.1 turnovers per game and finished with a turnover margin of minus-2. In the spring game, the struggles continued as Purdue’s offensive players threw three picks and lost two fumbles. A handful of other passes also were batted down. If that trend continues into the fall, the Boilermakers will be in big trouble.
4. DEFENDING THEIR TURF: A year ago, Purdue thought a favorable schedule — seven home games — and having Ohio State and Penn State ineligible for postseason play might be enough to get them to Indianapolis for the Big Ten championship game. But after winning three nonconference games at Ross-Ade Stadium, the Boilermakers managed only one more home win, in the finale against rival Indiana. This year, they have seven more home games with an eighth game in Bloomington. But the Boilers have to defend more than their home turf — they must actually defend. The Boilermakers also allowed 31.2 points, 415.8 total yards, 181.9 yards rushing and 233.9 yards passing per game. The Boilermakers finished in the bottom four of the Big Ten in each category.
5. LEADING THE WAY: Purdue has plenty of experienced players returning this season — Henry, Gary Bush, Gabe Holmes, Akeem Hunt, Ricardo Allen and Landon Feichter — to name a few. The question is who will emerge as this team’s leaders. Robert Marve and Kawann Short were the leaders over the past few seasons. Now that they’ve moved on, the hardest part may be trying to find replacements for guys that were well-respected within the locker room walls.
Predicted finish in the Big Ten Leaders Division: FifthCopyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.