Over the next couple of weeks, GopherDigest will take an early look at the Minnesota Gophers football team’s opponents throughout the 2016 regular season. Today, we preview the Purdue Boilermakers.
Purdue Boilermakers vs. Minnesota Golden Gophers
TCF Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, Minn.
November 5, 2016, TBA kickoff
Purdue head coach: Darrell Hazell (4th season)
Coordinators: Terry Malone (Offensive coordinator; 1st season) and Ross Els (defensive coordinator; 1st season)
Purdue 2015 record – 2-10 (1-7 B1G): The 2015 season never got off the ground for Purdue as the Boilermakers struggled in every facet of the game en route to a two win season. The lone bright spot being a win at home over Nebraska.
2015 offensive stats: 95th nationally in total offense (368.6 YPG), 92nd in scoring offense (25.1 PPG), 54th in passing offense (237.3 YPG), 108th in rushing offense (131.3 YPG)
2015 defensive stats: 110th nationally in total defense (458.3 YPG), 111th in scoring defense (36.5 PPG), 89th in passing defense (243.4 YPG), 108th in rushing defense (214.9 YPG)
Returning leading passer – QB David Blough (1574 yards, 10 TD, 8 INT on 169-of-193 passing): Blough played in 10 games last season for the Boilermakers, and ended up completing over 57% of his passes as a freshman.
Returning leading rusher – RB Markell Jones (875 yards, 10 TD on 168 carries): Jones was also one of the bright spots for the Boilermakers last season as he rushed for nearly 900 yards and 10 touchdowns. Purdue will need another big season out of him this fall.
Returning leading receiver – WR DeAngelo Yancey (700 yards, 5 TD on 48 catches): Yancey was the big-play receiver for Purdue last season averaging over 14 yards a catch and leading the team in receiving touchdowns.
Returning leading tackler – DB Leroy Clark (88 tackles): Senior defensive back Leroy Clark led the Boilermakers in tackles as a junior last fall and looks to be the guy with a large workload this fall.
Returning leader in interceptions – DB Leroy Clark (Two picks): Clark also leads Purdue in interceptions for returners.
FIVE QUESTIONS ANSWERED BY TRAVIS MILLER OF HAMMER AND RAILS
What was the biggest thing about this Purdue team that you drew from watching spring practices and its spring game?
TM: Mostly that the evil is gone. Purdue fans came to revile John Shoop. The noted “Shoopfense” was famous for three and out after three and out and striving to go away from the strengths of its personnel. Most people did not want him hired in the first place. After three years, three ruined quarterbacks, and a lot of punts he was fired after last season, and for most of us that wasn’t soon enough.
In the spring game the offense was upgraded under Terry Malone, our one-time TE coach and former offensive coordinator at Michigan. I would say it is now “semi-competent”, which is a huge upgrade over “Complete and utter shitshow.” We’re not going to be dropping 50 points on everyone with impunity any time soon, but at least under Malone it looks like the offense might be able to get out of its own way.
The biggest difference will be in the quarterbacks. Shoop was asking his QBs to make post-snap reads and receivers to react like we had Peyton Manning in the huddle. Now the quarterbacks will have more designated routes to throw to in a more simplified offense, and that should help.
What are the three biggest story lines to follow this season?
TM: Can Darrell Hazell finally win some games? Purdue has about as easy of an opening schedule as you can ask for. A Joe Tiller coached team would easily roll to 5-0 or 4-1 against the first five opponents, but we are so soured on Hazell that there are real questions if he can even win the opener against Eastern Kentucky, which is sad.
When will the new athletic director be hired? Morgan Burke has announced his retirement effective June 30, 2017. We are actively looking for his replacement and no one is happy with how Burke has handled the program. He was given two gifts of Tiller and Drew Brees and failed to make the facility upgrades necessary to keep pace with the Big Ten. We are just now playing catch up, but we’re still woefully behind the rest of the conference. The new AD will likely be making the decision on whether Hazell stays or goes, but the longer the process goes on the more nervous we get. Purdue fans don’t want Burke having any say at all in Hazell’s replacement. I am legitimately scared that if his replacement is not found by December Hazell will be retained regardless of results.
What about the lines? In terms of actual, factual football Purdue needs help up front on both sides of the line. The potential is there, but both lines have drastically underperformed under Hazell. Each group has a new position coach in line, including Randy Melvin who had some very nasty defensive linemen in the early Tiller years. If the lines are better Purdue has a chance to surprise.
What are Purdue's greatest strengths for the 2016 season?
TM: Sophomore running back Markell Jones is a star in the making and we’re expecting a big season out of him. Unfortunately his top backup, D.J. Knox, tore his ACL in the spring game. Jones is an excellent No. 1 to build a running game around, but a bunch of unproven younger players will have3 to pick up the slack in Knox’s absence.
What are the Boilermaker’s greatest weaknesses?
TM: Athletic Director. A coach who is 6-30 and 2-22 vs. the Big Ten. A beaten down and apathetic fanbase. Terrible third down defense.
What is your outlook for the 2016 season for Purdue and what's your way too early prediction for their game against the Gophers?
TM: Well, I thought Purdue should have been a lot more competitive last year in West Lafayette, especially after the 2014 game where they should have walked out of TCF Bank Stadium with a win. If not for a dumb 3rd down personal foul that kept alive your winning field goal drive Purdue probably wins that game and continues some of the momentum it had going. That was really the high point under Hazell. He had won at Illinois, played Michigan State close at home, and was doing very well at Minnesota before that penalty. Everything has been downhill since.
Right now I have zero confidence in this regime and the athletic department as a whole. Only the men’s basketball team has me excited, and even then they had a disappointing NCAA Tournament and one of the biggest chokes there in NCAA history. Consider me King Aerys II: “Burn them all.” Purdue needs a complete reboot from the top down and it is coming. The sooner Burke is gone, the better.
You can follow Travis Miller on Twitter @JustTMill.
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COMPLETED EARLY OPPONENT PREVIEWS:
Nov. 12 at Nebraska
Nov. 19 vs. Northwestern
Nov. 26 at Wisconsin