1. Let's get it out of the way early. I know you're probably sick of it, but Darrell Hazell is 8-32 overall and 2-23 during Big Ten play during his four years. Why has this gone so wrong? With a new AD in place, is it simply inevitable that Hazell will be fired? And could it happen during the season?
Nathan Baird: It seems inevitable, and sure, it could happen during the season, though that’s not really Purdue’s style. Fans and media see Hazell’s tenure as a 40-game situation. New athletic director Mike Bobinski, however, has only been here for four games, and needs time to fully evaluate the situation. Letting the head coach go mid-season doesn’t fix some of the problems hurting the Boilermakers most, which mostly have to do with a lack of talent or depth.
2. New Illini AD Josh Whitman, a former Illini football player and West Lafayette (Ind.) native, has brought a ton of excitement to the Illinois fan base, mostly due to the hire of Lovie Smith. How has new Boilermakers AD Mike Bobinski been received? Assuming he makes a football change, what kind of coach or whom do you think are good targets?
NB: Fans and alumni will be watching Bobinski closely to see how he handles football going forward. He already declared it’s his No. 1 priority, but that doesn’t mean he can conjure some overnight fix. If the Hazell era is closing, I think Purdue should reach back to what worked with Tiller. Find an innovative coach (preferably with a dynamic personality who can appeal to recruits) who brings in a unique approach. Purdue made the rest of the Big Ten adapt to it back then. It can’t try to line up equally with the true powers in this league.
3. OK, as for on the field, I doubt I'm the only one who finds it interesting that two former Purdue quarterbacks -- Danny Etling (LSU) and Austin Appleby (Florida) -- are starting at SEC programs. Meanwhile, David Blough has thrown more interceptions (seven) than touchdowns (six). What should we make of that? And what must the Boilermakers offense do to pull off the upset at Illinois?
NB: Neither Etling nor Appleby was playing well when they were benched at Purdue. Having watched those situations unfold, I can’t say I think the coaching staff made the wrong decisions. (The quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator during those years, John Shoop, was fired after last season.) Blough, despite throwing five interceptions in the loss to Cincinnati, has actually shown flashes of playmaking ability this season. He has some gunslinger in him and has also displayed mobile accuracy. But Purdue must protect him better Saturday than it did when it allowed six sacks at Maryland.
4. Illinois was the worst rushing team in the Big Ten last year but ran for 382 yards (21 percent of their season total) at Purdue in 2015. Purdue's defense again is struggling to stop the run. What are their main issues right now on defense, and are there any playmakers to watch out for?
NB: Purdue appeared it had solved its run defensive deficiencies in the win over Nevada. But Maryland had a field day, breaking off long runs either straight up the middle or on the outside. Finding safeties who can adequately support the run defense has been an ongoing issue. Defensive tackles Jake Replogle and Eddy Wilson have been solid up front. Purdue wants to set the edge and force opponents back to linebackers Ja’Whaun Bentley (assuming he’s healthy enough to play Saturday) and Markus Bailey.
5. Vegas lists Illinois as a 10-point favvorite at home against the Boilers. I imagine most see this as Purdue's best chance at a win, so what do you see as the keys to the game? What is your score prediction? And will Hazell survive a loss?
NB: Hazell may be able to survive a loss, but not one like last week at Maryland. I’m thinking something like Illinois 31, Purdue 20. The Boilermaker offense has the potential for more, but the mix of its offensive line right now and Illinois’ pass rush seems like a bad matchup.