Quick 2014 review: After a disastrous first season under head coach Darrell Hazell, Purdue showed some improvement last season. The Boilermakers went .500 in the nonconference and downed Illinois 38-27 on Oct. 4 for their first Big Ten win under Hazell, a former Ohio State assistant coach. They lost their last six games of the year, though, to drop to 4-20 during Hazell’s tenure.
The traditional stats aren’t pretty as they show a team that had little it could hang its hat on throughout the year, although a red zone defense ranked third in the Big Ten was a bright spot. The Football Outsiders advanced stats don’t tell much of a different story, although they do show Purdue being almost average on standard downs and in terms of creating explosive plays. The Boilermakers were very weak on passing downs and in terms of play-by-play success as well. Defensively, Purdue was also better at preventing big plays than it was on an every-down basis as the front seven struggled to make big plays.
Spring game recap: A 59-yard touchdown pass from Austin Appleby to Trae Hart was among the highlights as Team Black beat Team Gold 28-23 in West Lafayette. Appleby completed 10 of 18 passes for 147 yards with a touchdown and an interception for the Black squad while David Blough was 16 for 22 for 173 yards and two touchdowns with an interception for the Gold team. Keyante Green, a 5-9, 219-pound sophomore from Georgia, led all rushers with 63 yards and a touchdown for the Gold team while D.J. Knox had 41 yards and scored two touchdowns on the ground. Bilal Marshall topped all players with 81 yards receiving for the Black team while Cameron Posey topped the Gold squad with 73. Senior defensive lineman Ryan Watson had a sack, forced a fumble and blocked a kick for Team Gold while junior linebacker Jimmy Herman had a sack and two tackles for loss for Team Black.
Issues addressed: With eight starters back on each side of the ball — but from a team that has only won four games over the past two years — there were not a lot of holes in the starting lineup to fill. One exception was running back, where Raheem Mostert and Akeem Hunt formed a pretty good duo last season but are out of eligibility.
Veteran center Robert Kugler told reporters on the Big Ten spring teleconference he liked what he saw from the running backs as a group, singling out Green as a big back “who will run you over.” He also insisted the youngsters would have gotten more playing time last season if not for the present of Hunt and Mostert.
“Those guys are pretty good,” Kugler said. “I think people are going to be surprised with how good our running backs really are.”
Kugler is part of a group that returns all five starters, and Hazell identified it as the best unit on the team.
“Those guys have played extremely well,” the head coach said. “That’s our strongest group, them and the linebackers.”
After spring ball was over, Hazell told BTN.com he felt good about all three of his quarterbacks — Appleby, Blough and Danny Etling — but wasn’t ready to say when he would pick a starter for the fall other than to say it needed to be done relatively quickly.
Whoever is at the controls should benefit from a receiving corps that comes back intact and that veteran offensive line.
Defensively, four of the top five tacklers return, including linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley and defensive back Frankie Williams.
Overall, Hazell sees the Boilermakers knocking on the door of bowl eligibility for the first time in his tenure.
“Here is why I say that,” he told BTN.com. “I went back in January, closed my office door and watched every game. The biggest thing I found: In six of those games we lost, we were within 10 points in the fourth quarter and just didn’t finish. Being competitive last year will really help us this year in terms of getting over the hump. We have to win some games early. If we can — this team is different in terms of confidence and it will take off.”