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Adventures in Offense 2013: Purdue

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Quarterback Rob Henry.
Quarterback Rob Henry.
Jamie Sabau

2012 Quick Stats

Passing Offense: 3rd in Big Ten, 56th Nationally
Rushing Offense: 6th in Big Ten, 59th Nationally
Scoring Offense: 8th in Big Ten, 65th Nationally
Total Offense: 5th in Big Ten, 58th Nationally

3rd Down Conversions: 39.71% (81 out of 204 attempts)
4th Down Conversions: 59.26% (16 out of 27 attempts)
Red Zone Conversions: 77.55% (38 out of 49 attempts)
Total Points: 373 (50 TD, 9 FG, 44 extra point, 0 two-point)
Average points per game: 28.7

2012 Record: 6-7 (3-5 in Big Ten)
Record vs. Michigan: 14-44
Head Coach Darrell Hazell: first year at Purdue and 16-10 overall

What's up with the offense?

When you look at the overall stats and rankings of Purdue's offense from 2012, it almost seems ironic that Boilermaker fans constantly complained about an offense that was ranked in the top half of the Big Ten in just about every category: 3rd in passing offense, 6th in rushing offense, 5th in total offense.

It becomes less of a mystery when you look at third down conversion rate and scoring. The Boilermakers had 204 third downs, the 2nd most in the Big Ten (behind Michigan State, who had 215), and although Purdue was 6th in the conference in their conversion rate, when you have 204 third downs, the success rate should be much higher. Purdue only converted on third down 81 times. That must have been infuriating for the fans to watch.

Failing to convert on third down so often meant that the Boilermakers were frequently pissing away drives, which drove up the complaints from fans on Danny Hope and Gary Nord, who were criticized for poor playcalling and overall lack of execution. The Boilermakers were also in the bottom half of the conference in scoring, which didn't make things any easier for coaches in the hot seat.

So when Hope/Nord got canned, and Darrell Hazell was hired, there was much jubilation and phrases like "exciting offense" were thrown around. And that's kind of ironic, because when you look at the offense Hazell ran at Kent State, it's more than a little different than what Purdue has been used to since Joe Tiller. Granted, judging offenses from the MAC is always tough from an analytical standpoint because the MAC doesn't get the juicy television contract deals of the bigger BCS conferences, so for those of us who don't attend MAC games in person or listen to how the Golden Flashes are doing on the radio, all we really have to go on are the two primary games where Kent State was on TV: the MAC championship and the bowl game.

However, if you glance over Kent State's schedule/results from last year...

Kentstateschedule2012_medium get in the impression that they were in more than a few shootouts, which to the seasoned football fan of course sounds like basketball on grass. Only, here's the thing: the MAC championship and the bowl game were vastly different than what went on in the regular season. The bowl game especially.

The MAC Championship was a defensive embarrassment for both teams, while the bowl game was a much more balanced contest where the defenses for Arkansas State and Kent State matched well. Given that these two games are pretty much all we have to go on in terms of making an analytical observation, we're pretty much screwed.

If you watch the bowl, you can see pretty clearly that Kent State's offense looks nothing like basketball on grass:

It's not a spread. They use a huddle. They line up under center. They grind it out.

So my first thought was West Coast offense, since it looked like Kent State started out with Ace formations and two tight end sets. But, as you can see, the Golden Flashes are not a passing offense. The quarterback, Spencer Keith, struggled to complete his passes, and the primary force of Kent State's offense was its running game. We can pretty much throw the term 'West Coast' out the window when describing this team.

Kent State lined up in all types of sets from Ace formation to I-formation to Pistol formation to Shotgun, so you could say they were a multiple. At the very least, however, given the style of running they employed, the Golden Flashes were most likely a straight-up pro-style offense. Think more along the lines of Alabama or Wisconsin and less USC: a running back centric pro-style, not a quarterback centric pro-style.

We can get an even clearer picture from the season's stats.

Here's a big one: Kent State was Dead Last in passing in the MAC--13th, behind 1-11 UMass(!) and 2-10 Eastern Michigan(!!!). So how did they get to 11 wins? Well, thankfully for Hazell, the Golden Flashes had the 2nd-best rushing offense in the conference, behind Northern Illinois, the team that beat them in the MAC championship. That same rushing offense was ranked 18th nationally, two spots below Alabama (16th). Kent State also had not one, but two 1,000-yard rushers in Dri Archer and Trayion Durham.

So what does this tell us about Hazell's plan for Purdue? Well, as I said in a post about Darrell Hazell earlier this week, the man seems made for the Big Ten. He plays highly disciplined, smashmouth football that when they have a running game they're going to run it down your throat. It looks like MANBALL is coming to West Lafayette.

It is also interesting that Brian Rock, Hazell's offensive coordinator at Kent State, did not follow him to West Lafayette and opted instead to stay with the Golden Flashes. Meanwhile, if you need more proof that Purdue is going pro-style, then look no further than who Hazell got as his offensive coordinator: John Shoop, who was the offensive coordinator for Butch Davis's North Carolina team and, before that, the Chicago Bears. No-huddle spread? Yeah, I don't think so.

The hire was met with less than sensational shouts of joy:

This is a lukewarm hire, but really, is it worse than the Nordfense?

I mean come on! This guy got Jim Miller [to] lead a 13-3 NFL team! If he performs two more miracles I believe that qualifies him for Sainthood.

Honestly, I am not thrilled, but I am willing to give this group a shot. Shoop has NFL experience and he was coaching at a school where football is a very distant second to basketball. He has better tools in West Lafayette, so let's see what happens.

Ohio State fans, familiar with Hazell from his days as Jim Tressel's wide receiver coach, got a few yucks when news of the hire broke:

Some context: Jim Bollman, former Buckeye OC for Tressel and Fickell, was Purdue's offensive line coach for all of two minutes. He was soon hired away by Michigan State to be their offensive coordinator, and Purdue went with Jim Bridge.

The bigger story, of course, is Shoop, and just how much of an "upgrade" is he from Gary Nord. Bears fans weighed in on Hammer and Rails with less than encouraging remarks:

He ran the most unimaginative, non-creative, predictable offense I’ve ever seen. He made the Nordfense look good. Not happy with this selection. He was one of those coaches that flat out refused to throw the ball past the first down marker on a third down (that chaps my a**).

Hey, just because he sucked at Chicago doesn't mean he'll suck at Purdue:

No doubt Shoop was horrible. Everyone in Chicago hated him. But, this is a different level, and he just was not qualified for that job at the time. Under Hazell he will be a big upgrade over Nord. How much of an upside he has we will find out soon enough. I also was hoping for someone that would generate more excitement, but I think...that we have a more diverse, more experienced staff which should help recruiting and help us put together a solid team. Should help us to close those final open scholarships with some good talent and head into next year upbeat.

Well, some Boilermaker fans are choosing to stay positive:

With all of Hazell's talk about being aggressive on Offense...
I can’t imagine him being OK with Shoop’s trademark 2 yard run on 1st down, 2 yard run on 2nd down, and a 3 yard pass on 3rd and 6 then a punt. That’s what makes me think Hazell will be more of an OC than Shoop.

For what it's worth, MANBALL isn't necessarily a bad way to go. Michigan does it, or wants to do it, and I couldn't be happier. Okay, sure, when you bank all of your excitement on the new coach bringing in an explosive offense because you've glanced at Kent State's schedule and said OMG SHOOTOUTS IT'S A SPREAAADD, and then you learn that Hazell wants to ground and pound defenses, and then he hires an OC who's been called "unimaginative," it's probably better to get excited about something else Hazell's doing:

Here's music to Boilermakers' ears: Hazell will not – will not, I repeat – use a by-committee approach at quarterback. Phew. Hazell and offensive coordinator John Shoop have been steadfast in their desire for one clear starter under center, which signals a change from the program's recent past; believe it or not, last year's staff originally planned on rotating three quarterbacks.

So at least that's something. Any Purdue fan who hated Danny Hope's decision to play Caleb Terbush and Robert Marve intermittently instead of simply going with Marve should be happy with Hazell's move toward position stability. The good news is that he'll have much better quarterbacks to work with than what he had at Kent State.

Key Players

The quarterback situation at Purdue is wide open. Caleb Terbush and Robert Marve are both gone, so that leaves Rob Henry as the only quarterback with any game experience. During Purdue's ACL-tear armageddon of 2010, which forced Henry to rise to the starting spot by default, he played in 11 games and started in the last six. He threw for 996 yards in 86-for-162 attempts, boasting a completion percentage of 53.1% in a season where he got no help from the running backs. (Henry also led the team in rushing that year too.)

Although he's an upperclassman with experience, Henry will nonetheless face competition for the starting job from redshirt freshman Austin Appleby and true freshman early-enrollee Danny Etling. Appleby and Etling both participated in the Elite 11 quarterback competition during their respective senior years of high school, and although Appleby was long considered by Purdue fans to be the most likely starter in 2013, it seems like Etling passed him the spring. Via Travis Miller of Hammer and Rails:

What was originally a three-man race between Etling, Henry, and Austin Appleby seems to have been narrowed down to just Henry and Etling.

That seems to be the way things are going. Via ESPN:

Henry and Etling separated themselves toward the end of the spring as both men seemed to pick up the new offense under coordinator John Shoop and head coach Darrell Hazell. Appleby was with the lead group for part of the spring but seemed to fall off toward the end.

Running back is a position where the Boilermakers seem to have a great deal of depth. Seniors Akeem Shavers and Ralph Bolden are both gone, but Purdue still has playmaking ball-carriers in Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert, two players whom Travis Miller frequently reminds us were criminally underused by Gary Nord. In 2012, Akeem Hunt had 42 carries for 335 yards (averaging 7.98 yards a carry), while Raheem Mostert had a slim-pickin' 16 carries for 85 yards. Of the two, Hunt had the more successful performance in the spring game, with 19 carries for 134 yards and a touchdown.

Darrell Hazell had great success by utilizing speed and power backs Dri Archer and Trayion Durham at Kent State, and Purdue fans are confident that Hunt and Mostert can fill those roles in the 2013 offense. However, don't sleep on junior Brandon Cottom, who had 23 carries for 209 yards and averaged 9.09(!) yards a carry. The Boilermakers could also receive some help from incoming freshman Keyante Green, who turned down Ohio State, Florida State, South Carolina, Ole Miss, and Tennessee to play in West Lafayette.

Although the bigger story going into fall will be who gets settled at quarterback, the Boilermakers should have some options in the receiving corps. Tight end Gabe Holmes and sophomore wide receiver Shane Mikesky had the most production in the spring game. Via Hammer and Rails:

Gabe Holmes - Holmes was often open down field and led all receivers with four catches for 74 yards. He needs to develop into a reliable receiving threat and safety valve, especially if we have a young quarterback behind a porous line.

Shane Mikesky - Mikesky had the other touchdown where he lined up in the slot and scored on an inside seem pass from 8 yard out from Rob Henry. I found it interesting that coach Hazell went with him in the slot, but he has the speed to go with size to be a mismatch there. Mikesky was also an excellent downfield blocker, which was something rarely seen under Hope.

The Boilermakers also return O.J. Ross (56 receptions for 454 yards in 2012) [Edit: O.J. Ross has been kicked off the team, Travis Miller informed me], Gary Bush (41 receptions for 360 yards in 2012), and Dolapo Macarthy (28 receptions for 252 yards in 2012), each of which played in at least 11 games last season. Key depth will likely come from sophomore Danny Anthrop and incoming freshman DeAngelo Yancey.

The offensive line is, not surprisingly, still a work in progress for Purdue's coaching staff. The line returns three starters in left tackle Justin Kitchens, right guard Devin Smith, and right tackle Trevor Foy. The Boilermakers will doubtlessly need some underclassmen to mature quickly; in 247Sports' recap of the spring, they expect redshirt sophomore Robert Kugler to anchor the offensive line, with help coming from senior Kevin Pamphile, who will likely start at one of the spots, and redshirt freshman Jordan Roos.


Although there is a lot for Purdue fans to be excited about going into the 2013 season, there's still a lot of uncertainty. Whether or not Purdue fans agree that Danny Hope should have been fired (it's not all that split, honestly), the fact remains that hiring Darrell Hazell is a major gamble. Like many Big Ten athletic directors before him, Purdue's Morgan Burke went the safe route by plucking an apparent up-and-comer from the MAC.

Hazell's turnaround of Kent State, including the first 11-win season in school history, is nothing to scoff at. However, MAC coaches soon learn that the Big Ten is a different animal. Just ask Jerry Kill and Tim Beckman. Both of those coaches, despite all their head coaching experience and confidence, struggled in their first seasons. Hazell only has two years of experience. Is that enough to succeed where seasoned coaches failed?

Purdue was one of the Big Ten's biggest underachievers in 2012, especially given the situation in the Leaders division with Ohio State and Penn State both ineligible. Despite a breadth of experience at nearly every position, Danny Hope's team could still not reach the goals set. 2013 is a chance to start over. It's a new offense with no incumbent at quarterback, with a new staff, and a new energy.

On paper, the Boilermakers should easily match their 5th total offense ranking in the Big Ten. The numbers for passing and rushing could possibly switch as Hazell looks to run a more traditional offense and produce another pair of 1,000-yard rushers like he did at Kent State, while the quarterbacks take time to get into a groove. Don't be surprised if you see some growing pains, however. Though it's early to speculate, Purdue's offense in 2013 certainly fits the mold for a unit that could boom or bust.

Grade: B/B+