Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
2012 SEASON IN REVIEW: A bowl bid was not enough to save Danny Hope's job
following a 6-7 season in 2012 for Purdue. Hope's fate was all but sealed when
the Boilermakers suffered through a five-game losing streak in the middle of
the season. Particularly troubling during that span were lopsided home losses
to Michigan (44-13), Wisconsin (38-14) and Penn State (34-9), although Purdue
did take unbeaten Ohio State to overtime in Columbus on Oct. 20.
To their credit, the Boilermakers managed to regroup with three straight wins
over Iowa (27-24), Illinois (20-17) and Indiana (56-35) to become bowl
eligible. However, they were paired up with Oklahoma State in the Heart of
Dallas Bowl on New Year's Day and wound up getting throttled, 58-14.
Darrell Hazell, the former Kent State head coach and Ohio State assistant,
took over Purdue's head coaching reins in December. Hazell was named the 2012
Mid-American Conference Coach of the Year after bringing the Golden Flashes
within one game of a BCS bowl berth.
OFFENSE: Only four starters return on the offensive side of the ball for
Purdue. The battle at quarterback is between senior Rob Henry and true
freshman Danny Etling. Henry is more mobile and boasts more experience,
although he is a holdover from the previous staff.
At the Big Ten Media Day, coach Hazell said he envisioned picking a starter
about halfway through camp.
"In about two weeks after we start practice, we'll make a decision and have
that guy have ownership of our football team going into our first game," he
said. "And I think it's obviously critically important because number one
component for that guy is to take care of the football. Number two is to get
us in the right place, number three to be tough enough to stand in there on
third and five and take a shot. And we need a big play"
Getting that big play will be a bit tougher without O.J. Ross, who was slated
to be the leading returning receiver before getting kicked off the team over
the winter. However, Gary Bush returns for his senior season after catching
seven touchdown passes a year ago.
In the backfield, Akeem Hunt moves to the top of the depth chart after
averaging a whopping 8.0 yards on 42 carries as a junior. He scored three
fourth-quarter touchdowns against Indiana to help secure a bowl bid. Three
starters return along the offensive line.
DEFENSE: Although the defense returns plenty of experience, the Boilermakers
must try and find a replacement for All-Big Ten defensive tackle Kawann Short.
Ryan Russell will assume one of the bookend spots, as he is the team's leading
returner in sacks (4.0) and tackles for loss (8.5).
All three starting linebackers are back, led by junior middle linebacker Joe
Gilliam, who was fourth on the team with 57 tackles (41 solo).
The secondary lost only one starter after holding every Big Ten opponent under
a 60-percent completion rate and two or fewer touchdowns. That starter,
however, racked up a team-high 16 pass breakups and picked off three passes
(Josh Johnson). Senior cornerback Ricardo Allen is on the Nagurski Trophy
watch list and holds the school record with four interceptions returned for
touchdowns. Opposing quarterbacks do not look his way often, and for good
reason. Safety Landon Feichter is back after notching a team-high 80 tackles
and tying for the Big Ten lead with four interceptions last season.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Cody Webster is on the Ray Guy list for the best collegiate
punter. He averaged a healthy 42.3 yards on 70 punts last year, with 17 of
those traveling over 50 yards, including a long of 72. He also landed 29 punts
inside the 20 and had only seven touchbacks. The kicking game is another
story, as Sam McCartney (5-of-7) and Paul Griggs (4-of-7) split time last year
and entered camp in a four-way battle with Thomas Meadows and Tyler Murray.
Hunt had a 100-yard kick return touchdown but may have to cede that role with
the increased workload in the backfield.
OUTLOOK: Coach Hazell certainly does not inherit an easy job here. He laid out
a detailed blueprint for rebuilding Kent State's program, and it will likely
take just as long, if not longer, to turn Purdue back into a winner.
The Boilermakers have suffered through losing seasons in three of the last
four years, and 2013 is poised to be another. On a positive note, the team did
manage to close the 2012 regular season with three Big Ten wins in a row for
the first time since 2006.
Coach Hazell is trying to build on that success and change the image of the
"One of the first things that I said to our team, very first team meeting on
that Sunday night, was Purdue was always a team that's perceived in the middle
of the Big Ten," Hazell recounted. "Never up here, never down here. And I told
them it's going to take a lot of work but we're going to climb ourselves out
of the middle and we're going to put this program on national prominence for a
long point in time."
The roster returns 14 starters, including nine on the defensive side of the
ball. The schedule looks like a murderer's row of opponents, particularly
early with the likes of Cincinnati, Notre Dame and Wisconsin all on the docket
before October. Things ease up a bit on the back end, but by then the damage
may already be done.
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