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Spring preview: Purdue

May 15, 2014, 9:00 AM EST

PurdueDrum

While much ado has been made about the ending of the Michigan-Notre Dame “rivalry,” the long-running intrastate rivalry between the Irish and Purdue Boilermakers will take a break after this season, after scheduling struggles for both programs forced a break to a series that’s been played annually since 1946.

Last year was the first for Darrell Hazell, and it was an ugly one. Outside of playing Notre Dame tough, the Boilermakers trudged through an ugly season, finishing 1-11 with their lone victory over Indiana State.

To give us a spring progress report on the state of Purdue football, I tracked down our old friend Travis Miller, the editor of Hammer and Rails, home to all things Purdue sports.

Miller gave us an in-depth look at the program as it exits a very important spring.

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Can you give us an honest appraisal of the state of Purdue football right now? How painful was last year’s 1-11 campaign? Is there light at the end of the tunnel?

Last year was brutal. Not only was Purdue 1-11, it wasn’t even a competitive 1-11. There were occasionally some sign of competence such as the Notre Dame and Michigan State games, but for the most part Purdue got drilled week-in, week-out. It certainly wasn’t fun.

Purdue is not going to get much better until its offensive line improves. Last year it could not protect the quarterback and could not block for the run. After seeing the spring game I am not exactly inspired. There are a few JuCo guys coming in the fall including 4-star tackle David Hedelin, but he may not be available. He played a few games for a club team in his native Sweden and is facing a possible NCAA suspension.

The good news is that it will be hard to get much worse. The schedule should be much easier with Western and Central Michigan instead of Cincinnati and a really good Northern Illinois team. If there is even a little progress Purdue should at least win its three non-conference games other than Notre Dame.

 

John Shoop’s offense returns 10 starters. Is that a good news/bad news sentence? Spring games aren’t necessarily a great indicator of future success, but it seemed like things are still out of sorts.

I am a big fan of the skill players, but again, the line has been awful, especially at the tackle spots. Hedelin and Corey Clements, another JuCo tackle, will likely come in and start from day 1. Robert Kuglar is pretty solid at the center position and the guards are at least coming along, but Hedelin and Clements need to be an answer at tackle. In the spring game none of the returning tackles looked all that good and Ryan Russell had more sacks than he did all of last season.

 

To that point, how has Danny Etling looked this spring? The decision to go with Etling last year pointed to a “the future is now” type of situation, but is the young quarterback ready to lead this team?

I think so. He just needs time to throw and I think he can do some pretty special things. The quarterback that impressed me most in the spring game, however, was true freshman David Blough. He reminds a lot of Purdue fans of another quarterback we recruited from Texas that was undersized, but was a diligent worker and ready to prove a point. Blough is a long way from being the next Drew Brees, but he has talked the talk so far and after graduating high school early to go through spring practice he showed enough to me that he can at least compete for the job.

For now, however, the job still belongs to Etling, and he will only show improvement as long as he is protected.

 

Greg Hudson’s defense had a tough season. But again, 8 starters return (though the loss of Bruce Gaston and Ricardo Allen has to hurt). How do you expect the defense to rebound?

I think the defense will be much better if it has an offense that can stay on the field for more than three plays. There were several games last season where the defense would be sound for a half, only to wilt in the second half because it was on the field far too much. Cincinnati, Iowa, Illinois, and Michigan State come to mind as games where Purdue looked great for a half but the offense did nothing to help out.

Help is on the way in linebackers Ja’Whaun Bentley and Gelen Robinson. Purdue desperately need linebackers that can make a difference. We haven’t had anything close to an all-Big Ten linebacker in over 10 years, but Bentley and Robinson have a lot of excitement around them. Robinson is the son of former basketball player Glenn Robinson and younger brother of the guy playing at Michigan. He is a two-time undefeated state wrestling champion and also a champion in the shot put, so he is an athlete with a mean streak that is expected to play from day 1. We desperately need that.

 

 What’s a realistic bar for the 2014 Purdue Boilermakers? How do fans feel about Darrell Hazell after one really ugly season?

I think we need at least four wins. Beating Western Michigan, Central Michigan, and Southern Illinois should happen. I also think we should beat someone like Illinois because the Illini have one Big Ten win in its last 22 games and that barely came over Purdue last season. I don’t think it is a stretch that Purdue can win that game.

Outside of that, I think we just want to see a competitive football team again. Purdue’s most complete game last year came against Notre Dame and for two years in a row it has competed against a much better Irish team. The Irish are the first “real” opponent of 2014, so another competitive game would be a big step forward.

 

The Purdue/Notre Dame series is taking a break until 2020 after this season. How do Purdue fans feel about this? A product of realignment, and the B1G’s nine-game conference schedule and ND’s ACC commitment? Or the end of the world and just another data-point that money is ruining college football? (I suppose it could be something in between, too…)

Personally, I think it is ridiculous that the series is ending. All the factors you mentioned are bringing an end to a series that last almost 70 years without a conference affiliation. It could have been saved too. From Purdue’s standpoint all we needed to do was shift the home date from odd-numbered years to even-numbered years would have kept us with seven home game per season. With Notre Dame already losing Michigan and Michigan State there was room to work there too, at least from what I see.

I am going to miss Notre Dame because it is a showcase game for our program every season. When it is at Purdue it is almost always a night game so ABC/ESPN can put the Irish in prime time. When it is at Notre Dame it is a nationally televised game. Now Purdue coaches can’t go in and say to a recruit they have a guaranteed national game every season, something that is a nice guarantee for as bad as we are right now.

I feel like both sides are at fault here and it easily could have been saved.

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For more from Miller, check out Hammer & Rails and follow him on Twitter @HammerandRails.

  1. nudeman - May 15, 2014 at 12:02 PM

    Despite the fact that ND finds a way to struggle against Purdue all too frequently, this series has done nothing for me over the years. And they’re making THIS POS the Shamrock Series game? In Indiana? Now THAT will really help exposure.

    What, was Rutgers unavailable? Jesus …

  2. 25kgold - May 15, 2014 at 2:18 PM

    Peeeeeeeeee U! ;0(

  3. bearcatirishfan - May 15, 2014 at 4:06 PM

    yeah this game has always felt, other than it being an instate school, one of those games that only hurts ND. if we ND wins it’s so what you beat purdue. If ND loses it’s ha ha you lost to purdue a terrible team. i’m not really a fan of games that only boosts the other team’s profile and help ND nada. Maybe these schools should have to pay ND to play us rather then pay the little guys get for taking a beating from Ohio State. Excuse me I mean “top flight” schools.

  4. onward2victory - May 15, 2014 at 5:13 PM

    It’s Tiller Time!!!!

  5. shaunodame - May 15, 2014 at 11:28 PM

    It seems like an odd concept, but Notre Dame can really use all the help it can get as far as getting exposure/potentially landing Prospects from the Midwest. As of late, we have been doing a fairly decent job landing Chicago area and Texas prospects. The impact of us playing (and winning) the last two Shamrock Series games in those locations cannot be overlooked.

    For as bad as Purdue’s luck has been of late, it is certainly in our best interests to win this game, and to win it BIG. The subsequent recruiting windfall, with us getting a much needed shot in the arm in the eyes of Midwest prospects, is sure to follow. Very excited to see the potential impact this game will have on the future prospects we land. IMO, we can do ALOT better recruiting the Midwest. Too many prospects sign elsewhere, while we fight an uphill, and too often losing, battle for kids from the West Coast and Southwest.

    With our future schedule becoming very void of B1G schools, this might be one of our last best chances to make an impression on area prospects. First things first tho, we have to win lol

  6. fnc111 - May 16, 2014 at 1:09 AM

    Purdue is pathetic. Shocking Kelly almost lost to them the last two seasons. That’s CBK in over his head syndrome acting up again, but I digress. Glad to see Purdont off the schedule soon.

  7. fnc111 - May 16, 2014 at 1:31 AM

    shaun,

    You are being very sarcastic or completely delusional and I don’t know which one yet. Prospects from the Midwest are watching ND v. Purdue closely? ND gets a Midwest superstar recruit because of a win versus that garbage program? Wrong and wrong. If you made Ohio State the team and not Purdue I’d agree with what you said. Purdue, no way bro.

    • shaunodame - May 16, 2014 at 3:29 PM

      A little bit of both haha. Purdue is trash, everyone knows that. But unfortunately for us, they are our Shamrock series game. Because of the TV exposure, cool uniforms, and Lucas Oil Field setting, this will absolutely be our best chance to make a mark on Midwest recruits. Obviously, another close game could be detrimental to us but if we blow them out on this big stage it can easily be our last and best chance to make an impact in recruits minds for the next few recruiting cycles.

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