FORT WAYNE – Purdue coach Darrell Hazell had a rough first year with the program as the Boilermakers lost 11 games for the first time in program history. Purdue’s lone win came against FCS squad Indiana State, and Hazell’s squad went winless in Big Ten play.
Year 2 should be a step forward. Here’s a look at what Purdue will have to do to make it so:
5 top returning players
Danny Etling, Fr. QB: Etling was thrust into a starting role in Week 5, and his results as a true freshman starter were a mixed bag. The 6-foot-2, 218-pound Terre Haute native threw for 1,690 yards and 10 touchdowns but was picked off seven times. There was improvement throughout the season, and Etling’s last game – a 485-yard, four-touchdown performance against Indiana – was his best.
DeAngelo Yancey, Fr. WR: Yancey, Hazell said, was one of the few players who could consistently beat one-on-one coverage on the outside this season. He finished his first year with 546 receiving yards and two touchdowns as well as a team-best 49.6 yards per game. Yancey, who averaged 17.1 yards per catch, was by far the Boilers’ best deep threat.
Akeem Hunt, Jr. RB: Hunt led the team in all-purpose yards with 340 receiving yards and 464 rushing yards on the year. He was also a big part of the return game and should serve well in that role as a senior, as well.
Landon Feichter, Jr. S: Feichter, a Bishop Dwenger grad, came back from a broken leg in the heart of a lost season for Purdue. He led the team in tackles as a sophomore and will be the most battle-tested member of the secondary next season. The Boilermakers will look to him as a leader on defense.
Justin Sinz, Jr. TE: Sinz became a consistent red zone threat toward the end of the season after being forced into action because of an injury to tight end Gabe Holmes. His development will give Etling a go-to option in the middle of the field and diversify the offense a bit more.
4 key players leaving
Ricardo Allen, Sr. CB: Allen had six interceptions this season and was a stabilizing force on a defense known more for its miscues than anything else. He ends his time at Purdue second all time in interceptions, with 13.
Bruce Gaston, Sr. DL: Gaston was a force both as a tackle and end. His seven tackles for loss and three sacks were both team highs. He was also sixth on the team with 48 tackles overall.
Will Lucas, Sr. OLB: Lucas led the team in tackles (73) and leaves behind an inexperienced linebacker group.
Cody Webster, Sr. P: Webster was the Big Ten Punter of the Year and a finalist for the Ray Guy Award, which goes to the nation’s best college punter. Although Purdue didn’t take advantage often, he was able to flip the field plenty and averaged 43.5 yards per punt. Seventeen of his 70 kicks traveled farther than 50 yards.
3 positions of strength
Quarterback: Etling showed promise, and another offseason will bring more understanding of the system. The competition between him and redshirt freshman Austin Appleby will also be healthy.
Running back: Along with Hunt, Purdue returns freshman Dalyn Dawkins, who started the season well but sputtered toward the end. If he can be a consistent threat and Hunt progresses as expected, the Boilermakers can be a dangerous running team.
Wide receiver: Purdue had five receivers with more than 100 receiving yards this season, and all of them return. Along with Yancey, the Boilers get Danny Anthrop, B.J. Knauf, Shane Mikesky and Cameron Posey back. Hunt and Sinz should contribute quite a bit in the passing game, too.
2 major weaknesses
Offensive line: Much of the improvement along an offensive front that gave up more than three sacks per game will come from recruiting. Some good pieces are on the way, but it takes time to develop high school talent into a college-ready body.
Defensive line: Attrition will set in after this season. Purdue has depth, but it loses Gaston and seniors Ryan Isaac and Greg Latta. A few freshmen who played early – Jake Replogle, Ra’Zahn Howard and Evan Panfil – will need to make the most of their experience this season and get ready for much more of it.
1 main question for 2014
How much difference does one offseason make? No one expected much of this season’s Boilers, and much of that had to do with how difficult it is for a coach to change a program in one season. The program, from its culture to its personnel, goes through a massive upheaval. But now, the free pass is gone. Hazell will have to show that his system works, and although fans won’t expect a bowl from next season’s team, they’ll certainly expect progress – and a lot better than 1-11.