INDIANAPOLIS – Darrell Hazell is tired of reliving the past.
After months of poring through game tapes to figure out what went wrong in 2013, the second-year Purdue coach came to this conclusion: It’s time for everyone to forget about the last season and focus on the future.
“I think this is the time where you rip off the rear-view mirror, and you take a look at what’s in front of you and all the things that we need to do to be successful,” Hazell said.
There are reasons for optimism.
Incumbent quarterback Danny Etling and hotshot freshman David Blough could be the next big things at a school known for churning out good quarterbacks. Playmaking running back Akeem Hunt will be operating behind a bigger, perhaps stronger offensive line. And the defense, under coordinator Greg Hudson, could take a big step forward, too.
Still, the reminders of last season’s dismal 1-11 record are hard to ignore.
When Western Michigan visits Ross-Ade Stadium for the Aug. 30 season opener, Purdue will be trying to snap a 12-game losing streak against FBS schools – a streak that predates Hazell’s debut.
And although the Boilermakers landed in the weaker of the Big Ten’s two divisions, they still must contend with a schedule that includes Nebraska and Wisconsin, defending league champion Michigan State and a date with Notre Dame in Indianapolis.
Hazell is convinced another year in the system and a recruiting class that focused heavily on plugging holes will make this a different kind of year, one that might help everyone look ahead.
“Each year takes on its own little role,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure we separate ourselves from last year’s role and move forward.”
Here are five more things to watch in 2014:
O-FFENSIVE: A year ago, the Boilermakers averaged 14.9 points per game – not nearly enough in a football world where the trend is scoring points by the dozens.
COMPETITION: The most interesting competition in August comes at the most important position, quarterback. Etling made big strides last season after beating out Rob Henry for the job and finished his freshman year with a career best 485 yards and four TDs in a loss to archrival Indiana. Hazell recently said Blough and sophomore Austin Appleby have closed the gap. A starter won’t be named until after next weekend.
PATIENCE: Injuries and sub-par play along the offensive line destroyed any chance Hazell’s offense had last year, and it showed. Purdue was last in the Big Ten in scoring offense, total offense, rushing offense and time of possession. Hazell responded by adding a couple of junior college transfers who could help immediately, and some big freshmen who could become the cornerstone for the future.
DE-FENCE: Purdue allowed more points than any Big Ten school except Indiana, finished last in sacks and lost three veteran leaders along the defensive line. So why will they be better in 2014? Depth and experience. Fifteen of the 23 players on last year’s two-deep chart return, including ball-hawking cornerback Frankie Williams and senior linebacker Sean Robinson.
YEAR 2: It took Hazell two years to turn perennial Mid-American Conference also-ran Kent State into a title contender. He’ll probably need more time to turn around the Boilers. Yes, they are young, and, yes, Hazell is starting to mold this program into his own image. But fans should see progress this year.