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Last year's 6-7 season was a disappointment in a long line of them. Was it the overall feeling of the last few years, or something specific that caused Hope's time to run out? Given some of the strange happenings (all the ACL injuries), was his removal as head coach fair?
Much of it was his poor in-game coaching and the complete lack of an ability to prepare us for a big game other than against Ohio State. For some reason Hope was Bear Bryant against the Buckeyes, but last season people were furious that Purdue checked out completely against Michigan and Wisconsin at home when they were the biggest home games in years.
A lot was also placed on offensive coordinator Gary Nord, who stuck with a two-QB system where both players had the same skillset, something that has never worked in the history of football. There were a lot of decisions like that over Hope's four years that doured him to the fanbase, especially when he never accepted responsibility for those decisions.
Darrell Hazell steps into a situation devoid of many of the familiar offensive names from the last couple years. What are your expectations for Purdue's offense in year one, and what should the casual Big Ten fan know about what Hazell will bring on offense?
I think it will be interesting. He had a pair of 1,000 yard rushers last year in Dri Archer and Trayion Durham. He has two backs in Brandon Cottom and Akeem Hunt that were criminally underused in the Nordfense last year. Both players were averaging almost eight yards per touch, but did not get the ball nearly enough. Combined with quite a few incoming running backs, Purdue should have some talent.
Much depends on who wins the QB battle. Rob Henry is a senior who has the only in-game experience of any QB on the roster. He is a good runner, but his passing has been suspect. He's improved, however. The other guy pushing him is Danny Etling, a true freshman who was an Elite-11 QB last year and enrolled early to go through spring practice. He is your more standard pro-style QB where Henry is more of a dual-threat runner. I think Henry and his experience give Purdue the best chance to win now, but Etling has looked very good and could be the long term answer.
Purdue's defense looks like it will return a lot of contributing players this year from one of the conference's worst units a year ago. What caused the breakdown in 2012? How much better do you imagine this defense will be?
You mean other than the fact our entire group of linebackers have sucked for a decade? It is no secret that you cannot have a good Big Ten defense without good linebackers. Well, we haven't had a great group since 2003. The middle of the field is constantly open on third and long, leading to big conversions. We also started a converted quarterback (Sean Robinson) at middle linebacker and a a walk-on (Landon Feichter) at safety. I like both guys, but talent-wise the middle of our defense is nowhere near the rest of the Big Ten, and that gets exposed.
I am hoping that consistency on the defensive line helps, but we lost our best player there in Kawann Short. Ricardo Allen is a promising cornerback, but we're hoping that the complete change of the defensive coaching staff has a bigger effect because mostly we're going with the same players.
At what position is Purdue's roster the strongest? Weakest?
I would say running back is the strongest. In addition to Hunt and Cottom I really like freshmen David Yancey, Dalyn Dawkins, and Keyante Green. I think we can run the ball if the offensive line can open holes. As far as weakest it is linebackers. We have to simply get some Big Ten caliber players there and we might have one in Will Lucas.
Did the spring game provide any answers or surprises to keep an eye on going into fall camp?
The defense dominated the spring game, but that raised most of the questions offensively. What was originally a three-man race between Etling, Henry, and Austin Appleby seems to have been narrowed down to just Henry and Etling. Hunt looked very good, but can he be an every down back in this league?
I don't think there were any surprises, but since it was the first chance for Hazell to implement his schemes I think a lot was held back everyone gets used to the new staff
Darrell Hazell has just two years of head coaching experience in the MAC to his name and walks into a program that, despite stability at the top throughout the transition from Joe Tiller to Danny Hope, failed to be anything but mediocre. What are your thoughts on Hazell's viability as a Big Ten coach, and how do you think year one goes?
I like it a lot. He has a history in the Big Ten and was a top assistant on the closest thing the Big Ten had to a dynasty on those Tressel teams at OSU. I also like that he was good with a complete rebuild at Kent State, who hadn't won anything of note in 40 years before nearly making a BCS bowl last season.
Most importantly, it feels like a breath of fresh air with the program. The fans greatly soured on Hope's rah-rah attitude despite a lack of results. It was fine when Purdue was 5-7 in Hope's first year and was a handful of plays from being 10-2, but his teams never got any better after that. With Hazell, I think we're already seeing growth and players getting better