Notre Dame fans whose stomachs are still churning and whose heads are still spinning after Saturday's loss to Michigan should be thankful for one thing - they are not Purdue fans. The Boilermakers and Fighting Irish both sport 1-1 records after two games this season, but the similarities stop there.
Purdue opened the new season and the Darrell Hazell era with a 42-7 shellacking in Cincinnati on Aug. 31 and then just managed to hold off FCS foe Indiana State 20-14 over the weekend. Hazell came to Purdue from Kent State after the offseason firing of Danny Hope.
Hazell led the Golden Flashes to a school record 11 wins and the program's first bowl (GoDaddy.com) in 40 years while also earning MAC Coach of the Year honors last season. The former Jim Tressel assistant at Ohio State has made his short term message about effort and discipline at Purdue, but he is still trying to build a head of steam in Hope's wake in West Lafayette.
Rob Henry is back at quarterback this season after sitting behind Robert Marve and Caleb TerBursh for the last couple years. Henry's last start before the Cincinnati game was on Nov. 27, 2010 - a total of 1,008 days in between starts.
Henry was 18-of-35 for 161 yards and two interceptions in Purdue's season-opening loss. He was marginally better against the Sycamores over the weekend, going 15-for-25 for 150 yards. He did not throw an interception in that game, but he is yet to throw a touchdown pass this season.
The struggles at the quarterback position are far from all on Henry. The Boilermakers have rushed for a paltry 166 yards through two games (just 65 against Cincinnati) and are averaging a mere 2.9 yards per carry. Henry has also been sacked three times, including twice by ISU. Purdue has used basic offensive formations so far this season.
Junior Akeem Hunt is Purdue's leading rusher with 103 net yards (3.6 per carry) this season. Dalyn Hawkins, a freshman from Louisville, has 61 yards on 15 carries for a slightly better 4.1 per carry average. Redshirt freshman B.J. Knauf gave the Boilermakers a little spark out of the backfield last week with four carries for 26 yards and a touchdown.
Henry has passed for just 311 yards through two games, but he has connected with 10 different receivers through the air. Gabe Holmes, a 6-foot-5 tight end, has been Henry's top target so far with nine catches for 69 yards. Holmes is on the preseason Mackey Award Watch List.
Dawkins has four catches for 52 yards out of the backfield, while 6-foot-4 receiver Shane Mikesky has four grabs for 43 yards and Hunt has added three for 43 receiving yards. The Boilermakers are averaging just 9.4 yards per reception due to a multitude of screen passes that are necessitated by Henry's below average arm.
Purdue has a decent amount of experience back on the offensive line, but they also lost center Rick Schmeig (29 career starts) and left guard Peters Drey (33 starts) from last year's unit. Senior right guard Trevor Foy has 17 starts to his credit, but he has moved over from tackle last season. Fellow senior Justin Kitchens has that tackle spot now.
Sophomore Robert Kugler (seven starts last year) is a smaller center at 280 pounds. Senior left guard Devin Smith is Purdue's biggest lineman at 320 pounds, but he had just six starts under his belt heading into the season. Kevin Pamphile (6'7, 300 pounds) is the left tackle and had all of nine starts to his credit heading into the season. The average weight of the offensive line is just less than 299 pounds.
The Boilermakers have a corps of returning defensive players in their 4-3 scheme
, especially on the defensive line, but that hasn't done much for them yet. Purdue is dealing with replacing defensive tackle Kawann Short, who was the No. 44 overall pick in last spring's NFL Draft.
Defensive end Ryan Russell and defensive tackle Bruce Gaston have 18 and 15 consecutive starts to their credit entering this week's game. They are solid, but they are not in Short's league when it comes to overall line play. Short led the Boilers with 15.5 tackles for loss and 7.0 sacks last season, while those two combined for 14 TFL and 6.0 sacks. The D-line starters average weight is just 285 pounds.
The linebacking group is led by Joe Gilliam, who was fourth on the team with 57 tackles in 2012. He is joined on the weak side by Will Lucas and on the strong side by Sean Robinson. Lucas was Purdue's second-leading tackler last year with 66.
Senior cornerback Ricardo Allen leads the Boiler secondary. Allen has started 40 of a possible 42 games since his career began in 2010. He is the Purdue record holder with four interceptions returned for touchdowns.
Starting safety Landon Feichter is done for the season after breaking his leg in Saturday's win. Feichter led Purdue with 80 tackles last season and shared the team lead with seven tackles in the opening loss to the Bearcats.
Despite quite a bit of experience, the defense allowed 221 rushing yards and 425 passing yards to Cincinnati in the season-opening loss. The Bearcats had four rushing TDs in that game.
Make It Special
Purdue is lacking both offensively and defensively, but the Boilermakers have already shown a spark on special teams. Hunt returned the opening kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown against ISU. It should probably come as no surprise that he was able to do it.
Hunt had Purdue's only kick return touchdown in 2012, but more importantly, Hazell's teams have hung their hats on special teams in the past. Kent State ranked 101st in the nation in special teams, but they improved to 52nd in Hazell's first year there. The Golden Flashes then jumped to second in the nation in 2012 - Hazell's second and final season as head coach.
Punter Cody Webster is one of Purdue's other bright spots. The Ray Guy Watch List member averaged 42.3 yards on 70 punts in 2012. He has already punted nine times through two games and owns a 49.9 average with no touchbacks and four punts inside the opposing 20 yard line.