Big Ten Spring Football Review: Purdue

Ryan Russell is among the veterans returning for second-year head coach Darrell Hazell at Purdue, where 2013 could not have gone much worse. How did the Boilermakers deal with their challenges in the spring?

Quick 2013 review:

The first year of the Darrell Hazell era went poorly, to say the least. The Boilermakers were blown out at Cincinnati on opening day, edged Indiana State in the home opener a week later then lost their last 10. Purdue hung with Notre Dame Sept. 14 before falling 31-24. That was the Boilermakers' last single-digit loss until a 20-16 decision against Illinois on Nov. 23.

Purdue finished last in the Big Ten in many significant statistical categories, including third down offense, third down defense, first downs gained, yards per completion, red zone offense, red zone defense, rushing, sacks allowed, passing efficiency, sacks, tackles for loss and total offense. On the bright side, the Boilermakers were first in the conference and second nationally in punting and also led the Big Ten in punt return defense. The only other decent-looking numbers come from the passing game (sixth in the conference both offensively and defensively).

As far as Football Outsiders rankings, Purdue was 122nd in offensive drive efficiency, and the passing game sinks to No. 101 nationally in S&P+ (a measure of both efficiency and explosiveness). The defense was still among the worst nationally (99th) but ranked ahead of Illinois (103rd) in the Big Ten. The Boiler defense was not terrible on standard downs (67th) while checking in 87th on passing downs and 76th in both passing and rushing S&P+.

Spring game recap:

Keyante Green supplied the winning points with a 4-yard touchdown run to cap a 59-yard drive in the fourth quarter as the Gold defeated the Black 12-7. In front of 7,175 fans at Ross-Ade Stadium, Green ran for 43 yards on nine carriers while Gold teammate Akeem Hunt led all rushers with 54 yards on nine totes. Danny Etling completed 10 of 17 passes for 96 yards for the victors while the leading passer on the day was David Blough, who was 5 for 9 for 101 yards and a touchdown for the Black team and 8 for 11 for 46 yards for the Gold team. Black team starter Austin Appleby was just 7 for 16 for 21 yards and two interceptions. Hunt had 73 yards on nine receptions while the Black's Danny Antrop led all receivers with 91 yards on five grabs, including a 41-yarder from Blough that put the Black on top at the end of the third quarter. Veteran Ryan Russell was among defensive standouts with 11 tackles, including 3.5 sacks, for the Black squad while Kyle Marzec led the Gold with four stops.

Issues addressed:

Teams that got 1-11 obviously have plenty of things to take care off a year later, and Hazell may have created another when he told reporters in West Lafayette he was not ready to name a starting quarterback for the fall despite Etling having finished last season as the No. 1 guy.

"I won't answer that," Hazell replied when asked if Etling is the starter now. "I will say we had too many drops again. I think I counted five. That's too many drops. When you're mixing and matching lines that's a factor in quarterback play."

Whoever is calling the signals, he will hope to have more weapons at his disposal than last season, when no one reached 600 yards receiving or caught more than 41 passes. Senior scatbacks Hunt and Raheem Mostert hope to be players the defense has to account for whether it is in the running or passing game. Mostert, one of the Big Ten's top kick returners last season, dominated the April 5 jersey scrimmage with 134 yards rushing, and Hazell sees the Florida native building confidence.

"We need a big play spark guy like Raheem because a big play takes a lot of pressure off the offense," the coach said.

On the other side of the ball, things were not so dire last season, but three of the biggest impact players on the squad have moved on. The biggest name left is Russell, a senior who has been a contributor for three seasons but has not become a star.

"The biggest thing for Ryan right now is he has to play with a motor every single play," Hazell said. "If he can do that, give us 3-4 hard plays then get out for a blow then get back in so we can keep pressure on offensive tackles... eight out of 12 games a year he should have mismatches, and he should be able to take advantage of that. Drop his shoulder, get some pressure on the quarterback's backside and frontside." 

Etling said in the midst of spring ball he felt the offense returning nine starters was far ahead of last year when a new attack was being installed and that he saw the defense playing with better effort than a year ago.

"I think they're doing a great job," Etling said. "There's a lot more excitement on that side of the ball. They're running to the ball, there are always 11 hats going to the ball."

Jake Replogle, a sophomore from Centerville looking to fill one of the vacant starting spots on the defensive line, was named the most improved player of the spring on defense while that honor went to tight end Dolapo Macarthy on offense. With Macarthy joining veteran Gabe Holmes and 2013 receptions leader Justin Sinz, Hazell hopes to be deep at that position.

Ra'Zahn Howard was named the top newcomer on defense, and the Georgia native could give Purdue a powerful presence at nose tackle after dropping 35 pounds since last year.

"He made a play yesterday on a screen play where he put his foot in the ground and redirected that he could never have done last year," Hazell said.

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