Bearcats Part 2: Hazell’s Revenge – The Cincinnati Predicto
Darrell Hazell’s first game with the Boilermakers was in the fall of 2013 on the road at Cincinnati. It was also Tommy Tuberville’s first game with his Bearcats. The Hazell hire had quickly re-energized the sagging fanbase that had become embarrassed and disillusioned with Danny Hope at the helm. Look no further than the fabulous sendoff the Boilers got in Indy that week – Indy, not West Lafayette – as they headed east to the queen city.
As those of you who haven’t blocked it out remember, that ended as a 42-7 drubbing and we had our first taste of the Darrell Hazell era. And it’s tasted very similar ever since.
The Bearcats come knocking at Ross-Ade this weekend and once again it’s a game with tremendous pivot potential. Win it and the Boilers not only exorcise the demons of that embarrassing start, but also springboard to 2-0, have their confidence skyrocket and have evidence they can beat an FBS school. Will it happen? Let’s ask the brain trust.
With the last I-AA opponent in school history in the rear-view mirror, the Hazell Express chitters along, moving up a whopping 3 spots to #86 in Massey, passing teams like Virginia (protip: do not schedule I-AA playoff teams). Next up is Cincinnati, a team that is slowly sinking in the ... wait, let me look it up ... no ... aha, here it is, the AAC, under Tommy Tuberville, but is still nearly a touchdown favorite in the House that Morgan Emptied. Massey is somewhat kinder, making the Boilers 3-point underdogs, and Sagarin seems to give the Bearcats even less of an advantage (or doesn't account for the lack of homefield advantage that Ross-Ade provides, although it ain't just West Lafayette).
The focus in these parts is more likely to be the BMW Championship, which as you know Bob is being played at a course where John Daly once shot 56 with one hand while mainlining pure sugar or something like that. Ah, who am I kidding ... while I have made enough on DraftKings golf to buy, uh, almost half of the Old Oaken Bucket replica I'm buying for Coach Hazell as a going-away gift - was it really $100 at the bookstore? I need to check that again - it's really more of a set-'em-and-forget-'em thing. I'll really be watching actual college football and waiting for NFL season to start. Colts-Lions: which team figured out it needs a good OL first? (The Lions might actually have that this year; Ryan Grigson is still the Colts GM, so sorry, Colts fans, it's not you.)
Hey, Nevada needed OT to beat I-AA Cal Poly (the Boilers' VB opponent on Saturday, coincidentally), so that's good, right? And they play Notre Dame next, so either Purdue's following opponent will look worse or Notre Dame will look worse, so that's good too! Plus Hazell will have an extra week to prepare for Nevada. Actually, that sentence right there is all you need to know about this season.
Tennessee-Martin led the Bearcats 7-0 at the end of the first quarter, so one thing we can count on is that there won't be a satisfied fan in the stands on Saturday. After all, Cincinnati once had expectations, right? At Purdue, all we are is dust in the wind.
Purdue’s victory against Eastern Kentucky was a confidence booster, but like all of the FCS victories in Hazell’s Purdue tenure it might not be the most reflective performance of this team’s capabilities.
Purdue forced four turnovers, which is always great…but the fumble was an awful handoff by Maty Mauk, and Gelen Robinson’s pick-6 was thrown by EKU’s running back. These two serendipitous turnovers, along with the seemingly-decisive three TD win, masks some of the bigger issues Purdue had in its opening game. Purdue gave up 176 yards on the ground (on 47 attempts, so 3.7 yards per attempt is…fine, I guess). Though Purdue only gave up 222 yards through the air, the corners seemed a step slow on many Bennie Coney-converted third downs.
On the other side of the football, Purdue was held scoreless for 20 straight minutes of gameplay vs EKU, which gives me pause before crediting Hazell for a complete offensive reinvention. There were a number of miscommunications between David Blough and his receivers, and EKU doesn’t exactly have a vaunted defense. Despite Markell Jones and the interior OL being Purdue’s clear offensive strength, OC Terry Malone continues to insist that Purdue is a throw-first team…making the lackluster performance of lead receiver DeAngelo Yancey even more concerning.
ESPN highlighted this Purdue-Cincy matchup as a Game of Interest, saying:
“It's also a ready measuring stick for Hazell's progress, since he debuted in 2013 with a 42-7 road loss to the Bearcats. Win this one, and this staff's process, plan and promises of better days ahead gain major credibility with the fan base, administration and players alike. Lose big, and it starts getting really hard to keep anybody bought in.”
Cincinnati struggled in the first half of their matchup against Tennessee-Martin, and seems to be in a similar position as Purdue: a 2nd year starting QB coming off a mediocre freshman year, a semi-dynamic running game, lackluster wide receivers after losing a ton of talent this offseason, and a largely-unproven defense.
This projects to be a high-ish scoring affair, and Purdue is desperate to have its first winning streak since…yup, Danny Hope’s final three games as head coach. I think Purdue’s run defense gives Cincy senior RB Tion Green too much room to work (100+ yards), and Purdue covers the spread but fails to give Hazell an 8th win in 38 games.
Line: Cincinnati -7
1-0...Our Boilers are in the catbird's seat with the league's leading rusher and 15% of Coach Haze's career Purdue victories in hand as they head into week two of the 2016 campaign. All is well.
I watched Cincy play a week ago, Thursday night...and I wasn't impressed. They had little offensive identity, and couldn't create space on the scoreboard with a pretty weak foe. Sure it was week one, but I kinda expected more from the Bearcats...a bowl team with a proven coach and a pretty experienced team.
That said, I don't think Hazell will avenge the thrashing that our Boilers received in his first game as head coach. It'd be great if he could- it'd be a bit of a statement game for his boys. My worry, until proven wrong will be depth. Purdue had a few nicks and cuts versus EKU last week; nothing serious, but they are a reminder of how tough of a game this is...versus air, in practice, or versus a lower division opponent.
This week, they'll play a good team...they're not great, but the idea that Purdue should be 3-0 following this pre-con makes me chuckle. Save the odd Nebraska game last season, we have no reason to believe Purdue has it in them to defeat a bowl team. Even then, that 'Huskers bowl team has a sizable asterisk by its name, in my opinion...they weren't great, they weren't really good, actually.
Cinco isn't great, but they're better than Nebraska last season...for no other reason than they have a QB in Moore that can make throws. And, unlike last season, Purdue seems to have a defensive backfield with only one guy who can effectively cover his guy in man-to-man coverage.
On top of that, I'm still very skeptical of Purdue's receiving unit- Young dropped a few passes before getting into rhythm last week, and Yancey looked like himself in that he simply didn't do much of note and looked bored at times (one of those plays could have been pivotal, but ended up being no big deal).
I think Purdue will fight a lot more than they did in hot, steamy Cincy a few seasons ago...but the end result will still be in the right column.
Does it count as progress if Purdue loses by less then 35 on Saturday? Ooff...
Cincinnati is not a good football team, but you don't need to be good to beat Purdue, you just need to show up. At least, if you're an FBS opponent that is (do we still refer to teams as FCS and FBS? Tell you what. I don't care.)
Part of me felt that the worst outcome possible last week was a mixed bag win. Cream a team like EKU and ok, you might have something. Lose, and well, that's kind of where we're at as a program. But win with equal parts good and bad? That's a bitter pill.
There's no sign that this team is actually any better than in previous years, and no reason to think things are going to magically change over night. Four turnovers is great, but some of that was flukey and by chance being in the right place at the right time (although that could pessimistically be applied to anything, I suppose.) Underneath that was a defense that went long stretches looking really shaky, interrupted only by stretches of looking mediocre. Against an FCS school. That folks, is how you get blown out by 30 in conference play.
So yeah, the questions remains. The secondary looks really, historically bad. David Blough looked really unsure of himself (lots of happy feet), and the WRs didn't help him out too much. There's a smattering of talent across the team, but there's not really enough of it. Any injury to any starter would be devastating.
A win, any win, screams out to be acknowledged as a sign that things are really different this time. However, I really feel that there are no corners to be turned here; all we have is a circle that leads us back to an ass-kicking at the hands of Cincinnati. Hazell has never won two games in a row as a HC at Purdue, and he's not going to start now. Purdue loses, poetically.
I teased H&R’s Juan Crespo earlier in the week because he implied in a post that a 3-0 or even 5-0 start was possible if the Boilers win this game. The truth is, I’m glad there are optimists remaining out there when it comes to Purdue football that are outside the locker room. One thing that I’ve lamented many times in the past over the course of several coaches is the lack of preparedness. I’ve often said that I can stomach a bad season or a hard loss as long as it seems like the guys left it all out there. Remember Danny Hope’s first team in 2009 and how they started 1-5, then beat OSU and wound up in a spot where they had to win their final two games to get bowl eligible? They lost at home to a really good Michigan State team 40-37 and the truly left everything out there. I remember being disappointed that the bowl dream was over but not furious at the performance. How could you be? They went toe-to-toe with a good team and never quit.
Those kinds of performances have been hard to find for a while. Sure, we all want a win, but seeing them show some serious fight and not look unprepared or overmatched would go a long way towards building this fan base’s hope back up that brighter days may be ahead. And I don’t think there’s an excuse for those things not to happen. It’s Cincinnati – a nice test but this isn’t some monster the Boilers are welcoming in. Win this game and then it’s reasonable to think they might be able to beat Nevada. And then we have perhaps a fun season on our hands as the Boilers search for a few more wins to get bowl-eligible. But now I’m sounding like Juan Crespo.
I’ll believe it when I see it. Maybe.