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Purdue University

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Associated Press
Akeem Hunt gives Purdue explosiveness whether at running back or on kick returns.

Quick start a must for Boilers

Purdue hit bottom after the transition from Danny Hope to Darrell Hazell.

The Boilermakers’ record was their worst since a 1-10 season in 1993.

How they respond this year is important because the perception is that Hazell is a bright coach who knows how to turn things around.

5 key issues

Getting off to quick start: Purdue faces all four nonconference foes in the first four weeks. Three are in West Lafayette, and those home games belong in the win column if anything is to come of this season.

Last year, Purdue eked out its lone victory by six points over FCS foe Indiana State.

The Boilermakers could use a dominant early performance at home to spark fan interest.

Boosting the pass rush: Purdue had only 14 sacks in 2013, leaving its secondary out to dry.

Now that Ricardo Allen is gone, the defensive backs are in need of even more protection.

If 300-pounder Ra’Zahn Howard can occupy two blockers, Hazell can turn to 3-4 schemes that sometimes generate pressure simply on the element of surprise.

Pounding it on the ground: Hazell wants to install a physical offense. It didn’t take hold last season.

A strong running game helps a young quarterback, so expect Hazell to double down on his schemes in Year 2.

At 6-foot-4 and 258 pounds, Brandon Cottom takes care of short yardage. David Yancey, Keith Byars II and Keyante Green are younger legs who might be mixed in on early downs.

Returns from injury: Tight end Gabe Holmes missed most of last season with a serious wrist injury.

Safety Landon Feitcher, the Bishop Dwenger graduate missed six games with a broken leg.

Those two seniors are proven contributors. The Boilermakers hope they are the players they were before.

Nurturing the youth: Veterans might stop the bleeding in places, but they won’t heal the wound.

The Boilermakers aren’t ready to win yet. This is a proud program that needs patience, and Hazell realizes that.

Developing prospects and letting freshmen get game experience is an objective that will pay off later.

4 top games

Aug. 30 vs. Western Michigan, noon (ESPNU): The Broncos were 1-10 with a tie last year. This should come easily. If not, Purdue might be headed for disaster.

Sept. 13 vs. Notre Dame, 7:30 p.m. (NBC): Purdue was outscored by 23.1 points a game last year, but only lost to the Irish by seven. This one is played at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

Nov. 8 vs. Wisconsin, TBA: If the Boilermakers are to snag a head-turning victory, this might be their best shot at a big upset.

Nov. 29 at Indiana, TBA: The Hoosiers ended a two-game losing streak in the Old Oaken Bucket game. Purdue can’t afford to be blown out a second straight year.

3 key returning players

DeAngelo Yancey, So., WR: Supplying the ability to make big plays, Yancey averaged 17.1 yards on his 32 receptions in 2013.

Akeem Hunt, Sr., RB: Purdue tries any way it can to employ his explosiveness, whether on kickoffs, rushes or pass patterns from the backfield or slot.

Frankie Williams, Jr., CB: In the era of spread offenses, having a corner who can take away an opponent’s top option is critical. If Purdue spends more time in a 3-4, Williams must supply man coverage.

2 new faces to watch

David Hedelin, Jr., OL: Starting tackles Kevin Pamphile and Justin Kitchens graduated, so Hedelin has a chance to make an immediate impact as a junior college transfer.

Langston Newton, So., DE: The Kentucky transfer was granted a waiver for immediate eligibility. He could help fill in for the departed Greg Latta.

1 indispensable player

Danny Etling, So., QB: Etling started eight games as a freshman and threw a season-high four touchdown passes in the finale. Hazell views him as a potentially elite passer, and there is no commodity more valuable. Etling may be the program’s future.