WEST LAFAYETTE – Purdue coach Darrell Hazell had seen steady improvement from his squad throughout spring practices, but he wasn’t sure what to expect from the team’s scrimmage Saturday.
By the end of the practice in Ross-Ade Stadium, he was pleasantly surprised.
To say the least.
There was a lot of good work out there; a lot of good hitting, Hazell said after the scrimmage, which was staffed by Big Ten referees and ran about 1 1/2 hours. It was one of the better ones I’ve had (in his coaching career). A lot of times, it’ll start out a little bit sluggish, but I felt we did a lot of nice things on both sides of the ball.
The offense and defense squared off through more than 80 plays.
Quarterbacks Rob Henry, a senior, and Danny Etling, a freshman, led most of snaps on offense. Redshirt freshman Austin Appleby also saw some time with the first team. While Hazell sees all three as potential options, he said Etling created some separation from Appleby, who has been the second-string quarterback for most of spring.
Obviously, we’ve got to take care of the ball better, but I thought there was a lot of good play, Hazell said. We wanted to give all three of those guys a set with the ones. They all got two or three sets with the ones, which is what we wanted to get out if it.
Henry, the front-runner for a starting spot, said he was pleased with his teammates’ effort but saw room to improve.
Too many mental errors, too many penalties, Henry said. We can’t have that when we get to August and get into September and Big Ten play.
That’s quite a ways away for Henry and the new coaching staff, who will watch film today and get a better idea of how the scrimmage graded out, Hazell said. The first-year coach expects mistakes, including a bevy of drops and turnovers during the scrimmage, will fix themselves as players get used to a new offensive system.
The defense, too, sees some ways to improve upon its performance. Sophomore defensive back Frankie Williams, who laid a couple jarring hits in the open field, said consistently creating those big plays will be crucial in August, as well as during the Purdue spring game Saturday.
We just got to stay focused, Williams said. Turn some of those big hits and open field tackles into turnovers, strip the ball and make good plays.
The offense and defense have a week to work on those flaws before the spring game, which like the scrimmage, will be open to the public. Senior defensive tackle Bruce Gaston, who participated in his first live action since surgery on his left thumb, said that day-to-day improvement is the essence of this time of year.
I think we definitely had a productive day, Gaston said. We learned some stuff about ourselves.