Purdue has more questions than answers heading into the second spring and the second season under head coach Darrell Hazell. The Boilermakers finished a lowly 1-11 in Hazell’s first season in 2013. Their only win was a narrow 20-14 Sept. 7 victory over FCS opponent Indiana State.
“There were a lot of expectations coming in that the team would maybe not win a ton of games, but play better and without penalties and that kind of thing,” Alan Karpick of Gold and Black Illustrated told ISD. “It turned out that it just didn’t happen that way. They were not competitive in the very vast majority of their games.”
The Boilermakers scored just 14.9 points per game while allowing an average of 38. They also averaged a little more than five penalties per game. Hazell came to Purdue with a new and more forceful attitude than was seen in Purdue under Danny Hope. Hazell was supposed to bring more toughness and discipline to the Boilermakers on the field, but that never materialized.
“I think that was the thing that was a little bit surprising,” said Karpick. “The trains didn’t run a lot on time as much as people had hoped and as much as it appeared that Darrell Hazell would bring.”
Purdue’s offensive losses are minimal, but it is an offense that has nowhere to go but up. The Boilermakers averaged just 67.1 yards rushing per game. That number ranked 122nd out of 123 FBS teams in 2013.
“It is an offensive line that you have to hope if you’re a Purdue fan that is going to change before long,” said Karpick.
That line also allowed 38 sacks last season, which ranked No. 115 nationally. Hazell’s biggest job this spring is to begin to find replacements for both tackles. Justin Kitchens and Kevin Pamphile are both gone after starting in 2013. Purdue has just three tackles on the roster to look at this spring, but they do have two junior college transfers on the way next fall.
“It’s the biggest question and one of the hardest questions to answer this spring,” Karpick said. “Because the junior college guys will not be in, so they’re going to have to really manufacture that position. That’s a dangerous, dangerous spot. To state the obvious – if you don’t have tackles it’s tough.”
One of the junior college tackles is 6’8, 375-pound Birmingham, Ala. native Cory Clements. He was a second-team junior college All-American for Mesa (Ariz.) Community College last season. Purdue signed only three other offensive linemen in its 2014 recruiting class.
True freshman Danny Etling took over at quarterback for the Boilermakers over the course of his first season. The 2013 early enrollee from Terre Haute was one of three Purdue quarterbacks to throw a touchdown pass. He wound up leading the team with 10 TDs, 1,690 yards and seven interceptions.
“He is a guy that I think gives you some hope,” Karpick said of Etling. “He gives them some chances.”
Etling took the job from senior Rob Henry, who was listed as a safety by season’s end. Henry, who was benched after a 1-4 start, has now graduated and Etling’s main possible competition for the job is Austin Appleby, who was a redshirt freshman in 2013. Appleby threw one touchdown pass in 2013.
Akeem Hunt will be back for his senior season at running back. The 5’9, 184-pound back ran for a team-best 464 yards as a junior, but he averaged just 3.8 yards per carry.
“He needs some space,” Karpick said of Hunt. “He didn’t get much space last year. He will get the first chance, I would assume, to continue to be the main running back.”
Hunt scored just one rushing touchdown. Henry led the Boilermakers with two rushing TDs. Hunt’s 38 receptions were the second-most for the team last season. His 340 receiving yards tied receiver Justin Sinz for the second-most by a Boiler. Bruising back Brandon Cottom (6’4, 258 pounds) ran for just 115 yards and a touchdown, but he was Purdue’s second-leading rusher. Cottom returns in 2013 as well.
A tight end is a young quarterback’s best friend, and that is what Sinz was for Etling. The 6’4 senior to be led Purdue with 41 receptions and four touchdowns in 2013. He will be back for his senior season. Also returning is receiver David Yancey.
“He was a true freshman last year and really had a pretty good season,” said Karpick. “He showed some signs of being a big play guy in the passing game. He’s a guy that I think they hope can become a big time player.”
The 5’10 Yancey’s 546 yards were a team-high. He had 32 catches, two touchdowns and a 17.1 yards per catch average. Slot receiver B.J. Knauf, whose only touchdown came against Notre Dame on Sept. 14, will also be back for his redshirt sophomore season in 2014.
Mishawaka-Marian High School offensive lineman Kirk Barron is one of three early enrollees for Purdue this spring. Quarterback David Blough is the only other offensive early enrollee this spring. Neither is expected to make an impact next season.
ISD will take a look at Purdue’s defense later this week.