Surprises Thus Far
Hazell hasn't had too much to smile about in '13, yet.
I hope in a year, Hazell's boys are rolling and this period of painful growth is not all in vain...but thus far, it seems the pain is just from getting horrible beatings not from any substantial growth. I think we all knew that the changes and subsequent transition would yield some poor play, but this is some of the worst football we've seen in the history of Purdue football...that says a lot.
In my lifetime alone as a Purdue fan, I've seen really bad teams in Ross-Ade; Akers, Colletto and Hope-coached teams all could argue about which might have played the worst football on the home turf before this season. But now, Coach Hazell's teams definitely enter the argument, sadly. Utter failure on both sides of the ball and special teams rips the hearts out of fan bases because it's hard to be hopeful when you see things like we saw on Saturday. The good news, if you're a madman like me, there are some things to look forward to...but some things will be tough to stomach for the remainder of this season.
As the bye week begins, I'll detail some of the things that have surprised me so far...and some other aspects of this team's play that have gone as I guessed.
Dalyn Dawkins is probably my biggest positive surprise prior to the midpoint of the season. If you would have told me that a Freshman back would have worked his way into the two-deeps and played a significant role this season, I would have guessed it would be Keyante Green (prior to camp). Dawkins isn't big, but is tough between the tackles and hits the hole faster than any other Purdue back that we've seen on the field, including Hunt. They've got a different style...Hunt reads and attacks, Dawkins all but closes his eyes and blasts away at the trenches. He's a bit of a wrecking ball...and as he gets stronger, it'll be fun to watch him develop.
BJ Knauf reminded me of Vinnie Sutherland in his HS highlight videos...and in a Purdue uni, he probably reminds me even more of the old #14. He seems a bit taller than Vinnie though...but his quickness and ability to change direction at nearly full speed has made him tough on Purdue's most-successful running play, the jet sweep. A sub-surprise might be the fact that he and Anthrop's style of play is actually quite different. Anthrop plays a bit meaner (if that makes any sense) and tends to like contact a bit more. Anthrop's pre-season injury obviously kept him out of the stat line early...but Knauf's production has been pretty great so far in an offense that has had little success.
Paul Griggs has kicked field goals more consistently than I thought he would based on last season and reports out of the Spring and Fall camps. Sure, there have been some bumps in the road, but Purdue's field goal kicking is one of the places where you can see a glimmer of hope. Plus, his 47-yarder in the wake of missing a 27-yarder versus UND showed some mental toughness and decent leg strength. he showed it wasn't a fluke by hitting another 47-yarder versus NIU.
Anthony Brown has been thrust into a starting role in the defensive backfield and has looked pretty solid. The good news is he's second on the team in tackles...the bad news is he and the other guy leading the team in tackles is having to make those because the front seven aren't doing their job stopping the run. After he allowed a big touchdown versus ISU, I was pretty worried about him playing a significant role...but he's been far from Purdue's biggest liability on a defense that has plenty of them.
Will Lucas will end his career at Purdue with some pretty solid stats and will probably be the best LB, in a corps that struggles, at the end of the season. He's been the only LB that has played at a consistent level this season and who has been a sure tackler. Gilliam has looked better at times, but still struggles with consistency. I believe Lucas was fighting for a spot on the two-deeps as camp started...but now might be the only LB who can stop the run. That, of course really isn't the biggest problem with this LB corps; defending the pass has been a tremendous struggle.
Akeem Hunt looked like a weapon on special teams in previous seasons and has been one this year. On top of that, his quickness and speed make him one of the few players on the field for Purdue that has looked like he could play or start for many programs in the country...if not at RB, at slot. His pass-catching ability has made him a weapon this year though. He leads the team in receptions and his YAC has been pretty good because many of his catches are behind the line of scrimmage.
Cody Webster was a good punter bofore this season...he's been very good once again and one of the consistent bright spots on the team. Sadly, the adage that bad offensive teams have good punters stands here...My hope is he can earn money doing what he does next year. He's been a bit less consistent on how he's hitting the ball recently though; that can be corrected.
It's feast or famine with Ricardo Allen at CB...it always has been. But this season, there's been a lot of famine. I've always like the fact that he wants to be tested and doesn't shy away from pressure. BUT, with that willingness to be the guy, comes opportunities to shine or fail. He's gotten burnt a lot this season. Versus NIU, he was burnt again for a swing touchdown that put Purdue down by three scores (I believe...I haven't watched the tape, and won't in this case). Allen is undersized and oft-injured...those two might be connected, but it doesn't matter. The last few seasons, his injuries have mounted and he gets picked on regularly. Josh Johnson told me in the spring that Frankie Williams was going to be very good at CB this season...he was right. Just as Johnson was the better cover corner in '12, Williams seems to be the better cover corner this year. Part of that comes from Allen always drawing the best receiver, but big players GOTTA make plays in big games. Allen's inconsequential interception versus Wisconsin is the only stop versus a ranked opponent that I can remember in the last two seasons.
Not many surprises out of the offense yet.
Rob Henry wasn't a very accurate passer a few years ago when he toughed his way through a nasty injury to his finger. Many blamed his problems as a passer on that injury. But if you watched him in the spring, you could see that he still wasn't stepping into many of his throws and he short arms his throws as if he's throwing a dart. His inaccuracy really showed itself the most this season versus Wisconsin; a game in which he couldn't hit RBs in the flat or TEs dragging across the field. Whether it's psychological as he struggles with pressure, or its mechanical as his motion isn't effective, really doesn't matter. What he's shown is that he's a great athlete and leader that happens to play quarterback...not a quarterback who happens to be a great athlete and leader, if that makes any sense. I hope he continues to lead the team in whatever role he's asked to play in the remaining 7 games of this season...and I also hope that role isn't at QB.
The offensive line has struggled at about everything this season...but their biggest problem hasn't been on passing downs, but creating space for the running game. They've been forced to move players out of their normal positions due to depth and it seems the line has struggled adapting to the new system. Their depth might be their biggest down fall though- on the chart, it's typically a Senior being backed up by a RS Freshman...The good news on this front is the future looks pretty good AND, this unit has not been too bad with pass protection.
J is already prepare to talk about how much of an awful season this has been statistically...but to whet your appetite about that, I'll tell you that I'm shocked by the manner in which this Purdue team has lost a few of these games. I really thought Purdue's old habits of poor discipline would die hard, but Hazell would put players on the field, young or old, that would play disciplined football. I thought this philosophy would wear the team down, so Purdue would lose close games to teams like NIU and Cincy. But that blueprint wasn't at all what's happened. Hazell decided to play experienced players in many positions, and some of those guys simply don't look like they belong playing in the B1G. Perhaps this is an indictment on Purdue's depth as well...but one thing is for sure- the way Purdue has been dismantled, and the amount of times it's happened has stunned me.
Bruce Gaston and his fellow defensive line looked like they would be the strongest part of the team this season. Many out there thought like I did- they'd be good against the run, solid against the pass. But they've been pretty lousy against the pass as their lack of speed doesn't put pressure on opposing QBs and versus the run, they've been gashed as they've only been able to stop Indiana State and Notre Dame. I think injuries, lack of depth and poor pass coverage has hurt this unit quite a bit, but the fact that we hear Bruce Gaston's name called so infrequently has shocked me a bit. He's still in the top-5 for tackles on the season...which is obviously good, I just thought he'd be dominant this season. He is getting double teamed on almost every down, understandably...but we all knew he'd garner significant attention in the wake of Short's departure.
Hudson's defense looked like it might be a stregth this season through the first three games...but in the wake of the last two, it's tough to think that they'll be able to right this ship this season. Injuries have beaten up the defensive backfield all year...and versus NIU, Purdue lost a couple more in the front seven, but the fact that they can neither stop the run nor pass with consistency is disconcerting. We've now gone through two head coaches and four defensive coordinators as the Purdue football faithful in the last five years and have had similar results with each. At the end of the day, Darrell Hazell's success will be greatly based on how quickly his defensive units can get off the field...so far, it's been bleak.
Check the site in the next day for J's look at the shocking stats from the season...