1. Let's look at the big picture first. Darrell Hazell is 6-26 overall at Purdue and 2-18 in the Big Ten. It's just Year Three, he has $6 million guaranteed left on his contract, he just got a big win against Nebraska and has a few winnable games left on the schedule. But how hot is his seat right now and what would weigh into AD Morgan Burke's decision?
When the program is 2-18 in Big Ten games, your seat is hot until you put together a winning streak. There are a lot moving parts around the program that makes it unlikely a change is coming this year. The large buyout is something Purdue would hesitate to pay and the school just announced a $60 million project to renovate the indoor facility. Don't you need to give Hazell some time to sell that project and help recruiting? The jury is still out on Hazell, but I think he's still the coach in the short term.
2. Freshman quarterback David Blough had a huge game against Nebraska (274 passing yards, 4 pass TDs, 82 rushing yards, 1 rush TD). How has he impacted the offense and grown since becoming the starter in Week 4?
Blough didn't really start impacting the offense until last week when the coaching staff started to roll him out of the pocket and feature him more in the run game. That's always been his strengths, but Blough was regulated to the pocket in his first four starts and the production declined after his first game against Bowling Green. Granted, he was playing better defenses (Michigan State, Minnesota and Wisconsin). Blough, though, didn't turn the ball over last week and managed the offense at a high level. Purdue has a better than average run game and that helps take some pressure off.
3. Purdue is near the bottom of the Big Ten in most defensive statistics, except for interceptions (fourth). What are the issues? Is it mostly a lack of talent?
Big picture, the numbers don't look good. Purdue has been without middle linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley (ACL) the last three games and linebacker Jimmy Herman (hamstring) has missed four of the last five games. Still, the defensive line is playing better than earlier in the season. They're rotating players, using up to seven. Purdue limited Wisconsin and Nebraska to less than 100 yards rushing in each game, a shocking stat considering Minnesota gained 326 yards on the ground about a month ago. It will never be considered a three-and-out defense but last week they made a couple of key third down stops and created five turnovers to keep momentum.
4. Speaking of recruiting, Purdue has been near the bottom of the Big Ten recruiting rankings for a while. What makes that job and program such a tough sell?
The campus hasn't changed, the city hasn't moved closer to Chicago or Indianapolis. Purdue is always going to struggle to attract elite talent to West Lafayette. That's why it's important to be good at evaluating talent and getting players in the right position early in their careers. This coaching staff has tried to stay close to home (surrounding states) in recruiting but the impact has been slow. Maybe a few more wins will turn that situation around.
5. This is a big game for both teams. It seems like Hazell can buy more time with a win, while Illinois is simply trying to get two more wins to get to a bowl game. What are your biggest keys to the game and what is your score prediction?
If Illinois can't find a run game, the offense will continue to struggle. To me, a lot depends if Josh Ferguson plays. He's been out three games and the run-game production hasn't been the same. Purdue benefited from five turnovers last week but you can't count on that every game. The offense needs to show it can sustain drives and not just take advantage of short fields. Illinois is closer to reaching its goals than Purdue but another win for Hazell would inch his program forward a little bit. A lot of things fell into place for the Boilermakers last week that I don't see happening again. Can I predict a tie? Late field goal for Illinois, 25-22.