14 Teams in 14 Days: Purdue Boilermakers
When Darrell Hazell took over the reigns at Purdue following the 2012 season, he knew he had a rebuilding project on his hands but you have to question if the situation was even worse than he imagined.
The Boilermakers 2013 season was disastrously bad. 1-11 with their lone win being a six point victory over Indiana State. An FCS school. In fairness to Hazell, Danny Hope didn't exactly leave the program stocked with talent and the 2013 schedule was ranked by some as the toughest in the country, but Hazell is still a few years away from turning this program around.
A long-time Ohio State assistant, Hazell left the Buckeyes to rebuild Kent State. Hazell posted a 16-10 record at Kent State, going 11-3 in his second and final season there. The rebuilding project at Kent State was quick, at Purdue its going to be a few more years.
The 44-7 loss to Nebraska on October 12 last year stands out for one reason. It marked the beginning of the Danny Etling era. A true freshman, Etling replaced Rob Henry in the loss and was Purdue's starting quarterback for the remainder of the season. While not eye-popping, Etling's play received high marks (10 touchdowns and seven interceptions while averaging 211 yards per game) giving the coaches enough confidence to go with Etling as their regular guy. Behind him is Austin Appleby. Appleby was one of the top-rated pro-style quarterbacks in the nation coming out of high school, but the job appears to be Etling's barring a collapse or injury.
Purdue's rushing attack in 2013 was anemic, averaging just 67.1 yards on the ground per game. Akeem Hunt returns and figures to be the starter. Hunt is more of a gifted pass catcher than he is running back. Joining Hunt though is track and field specialist, Raheem Mostert. Mostert won titles in the 60 and 200 meters at the B1G Ten indoor track and field championships and gives Hazell a homerun-hitter in the backfield.
The passing attack wasn't much better than the running game was for Purdue in 2013. The Boilermakers averaged just 6.1 yards per attempt, worst in the B1G Ten. Sophomore DeAngelo Yancey will be counted on to be the go-to-guy for Etling this year. He'll be flanked by speedster Danny Anthrop. Anthrop was used primarily as a special teams player the last two years but this year he'll be asked to be the deep threat in the passing attack. At tight end, last year's leading pass-catcher Justin Sinz returns and is the target Etling has the most familiarity with.
Robert Kugler has started 19 consecutive games for the Boilermakers and is one of the best centers in the B1G Ten but after him there's a lot of question marks on the offensive line. Entering spring practices all positions on the line but center were up for grabs.
At 310 pounds, Bruce Gaston was one of the best run-stoppers in the B1G Ten last year. On the surface Purdue doesn't have a capable replacement to fill his void in 2014. Sophomore Ra'Zahn Howard will get the first crack at replacing Gaston in the middle. He has the size required for a 3-4 nose guard, even after dropping 30 pounds this spring in hopes of increased quickness. On the outside Hazell and his staff have high hopes for senior end Ryan Russell, someone they think could be one of the better defensive ends in the conference, if not nation.
Purdue runs a 3-4 scheme that features a hybrid Jack spot, meaning the fourth lineman plays either standing up or with his hand on the ground depending upon the situation. The Jack this year figures to be Jelani Phillips, but he'll be pushed by Jelen Robinson, son of former Purdue basketball legend Glenn Robinson. Robinson was one of the highest rated prep athletes in Indiana and considered by many as the gem of Purdue's 2014 class. The linebackers are led in the middle by converted quarterback Sean Robinson with Joe Gilliam and Jimmy Herman on the outside.
Frankie Williams continues to be one of the best cover-corners in the B1G Ten but how much he's impacted by the departure of Ricardo Allen remains to be seen. Allen was a four-year starter who left school second on the school's all-time interceptions leader board. Replacing Allen will be Anthony Brown who saw time as the Boilermarkers' nickel corner last year. Landon Feichter was the team's defensive MVP in 2012 but hand and leg injuries cost him time last year. Purdue hopes he can return to form in 2014 as he's tasked with setting the defense. He'll be joined in the deep secondary by Taylor Richards.
|8/30||vs WESTERN MICHIGAN|
|9/6||vs CENTRAL MICHIGAN|
|9/13||vs NOTRE DAME|
|9/20||vs SOUTHERN ILLINOIS|
|10/11||vs MICHIGAN STATE|
There's no shortage on schools from Michigan and Illinois on Purdue's schedule this year. Its not quite as difficult as their 2013 schedule was but the talent was their biggest issue last year, not the opponent.
Hazell may have the squad on the right track, but they're still far away from competing within the division. The defense will be OK, but how much does an inexperienced offensive line perform and who does Etling throw to? More importantly, what do they have in Danny Etling? Too many questions surround this team that anything other than another last place finish in the division would be a big surprise.