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Purdue University

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Purdue photo
Darrell Hazell will make his debut as coach of the Boilermakers today at Cincinnati. “On Saturday, I’m sure, … we’ll have a little bit of butterflies in our stomach as we get ready to kick it off,” he said.

Boilers ready to untie knots

Purdue coach Darrell Hazell was calm Tuesday when he spoke to media during his news conference in West Lafayette and the Big Ten teleconference.

Today, that isn’t the case.

Hazell is anything but long-winded, but he makes up for being short on words with being big on honesty. And the first-year Boilermakers coach admitted that when Purdue plays at noon today in Cincinnati for their season opener, he’ll have a knot in his stomach.

“On Saturday, I’m sure there will be a little bit in all of us, players, coaches, we’ll have a little bit of butterflies in our stomach on Saturday as we get ready to kick it off,” Hazell said.

That is a good thing, Hazell said. These will be excited nerves, the kind that should come after more than seven months of preparation.

Despite facing so many unanswered questions and a Bearcats squad that went 10-3 last season, Purdue should be confident.

“I think we have a good football team,” Hazell said. “I think we have a lot of good football players in our locker room, and I think they’re looking and seeing things the same way. I look forward to what our execution level is going to be about on Saturday.”

The Boilermakers will have to carry out their game plan against a team that matches its strengths.

Cincinnati has a new coach as well, in former Auburn and Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville, but it has many of the same playmakers as last year. The Bearcats averaged 32.3 points while holding opponents to 18.5. Cincinnati gave up 135.6 rushing yards per game, and received three votes in the Associated Press preseason Top 25 poll.

Senior Greg Blair will lead the Bearcats’ defense. The 6-foot-2, 252-pound middle linebacker had a team-high 138 tackles last season.

“They have very good linebackers, especially the guy up the middle,” Hazell said of the 2012 first-team All-Big East selection. “He’s a big guy, but he can also move. He’s very physical. He is the heart of their defense.”

Blair isn’t the Bearcats’ only playmaker. Cincinnati starts upperclassmen at all but one defensive position. The Bearcats also have an experienced offense with just four underclassmen listed as starters.

Senior quarterbacks Brendon Kay and Munchie Legaux, who led the team to its third consecutive season with 10 or more wins, both return. Tuberville has not decided who will start today.

Kay is more of a pocket passer, while Legaux is a dual-threat option. Regardless of who goes, the Bearcats’ offensive line could present a challenge for Purdue’s defensive front, which is the Boilermakers’ deepest unit.

“We understand that if we’re in our right gaps and we stay over top the deepest receiver, we’ll be in good shape,” Hazell said. “There’ll be a battle in the trenches for sure because they’re an older group offensively, and I think we have a very good group up front defensively. So that will be where the battle is won.”

Purdue will be walking into a white-out at Nippert Stadium as fans in the 35,000-seat stadium are encouraged to wear white like the Bearcats’ uniforms. With a hostile environment, a proven program and the true beginning of his tenure ahead, it’s understandable that Hazell has those butterflies.

They won’t hinder him or his team.

“They’re going to play hard, I know that for a fact just watching the tape,” he said of Cincinnati. “I think we’re playing right now pretty much the same way.”