Boilers Lay an Egg in Huntington
As steady and straight forward as Hazell has been as Purdue's HC, I was surprised when I read about the importance placed on this one game and the gimmicky nature of the motivational tactic. In case you didn't hear, beginning last Spring, Coach Hazell began telling the players that both they and the coaches should be putting their eggs in the basket of the game we watched today at Marshall. Coach Tiller used to pride himself in being never too high, never too low...and while I'm not sure if he was as even keel as his public persona, he never placed an immense amount of weight in just one pre-con game.
If you win the game, the idea might yield some momentum that you take into later games. But if you lose, it could backfire as many of the 19 and 20 year believe the world has just ended with one loss.
The unthinkable happened today: Purdue lost to Marshall to begin the 2015 season.
If you watched, you might have felt like I did- it had the feel of the Rice game- Mid-major opponent who looks like they're simply not as big, strong nor talented...and seemingly should be a W for our Boilers...but the good guys couldn't finish.
But before you finish a game strong, you have to start it, no? And our Boilers started the 2015 season in ominous fashion. Appleby stared down a receiver on the left side, Marshall's DB read it, broke on the ball and took it to the house. Purdue didn't lose their collective minds...gathered and patiently ran the ball and dinked and dunked their way down the field as the defense bent a bit, but didn't break and didn't allow the big play.
I predicted to a pal of mine that the tandem of Knox and Jones would prove to be a better 1-2 RB punch than that of Hunt/Mostert or Hunt/Green. I looked like a genius today. Knox, whose pad level with the ball is lower than any back that I've seen in a Purdue uni, grinds out tough yards when there's little space...and Jones has patience and vision that we haven't seen from a Purdue back since Kory Sheets. Pocket Dynamite averaged 4.6yds/carry on 22 carries (102 yards) and Mr. Jones 6 yards/carry on 12 carries (72 yards)...his 36 yard TD demonstrated a bit of everything in the tool shed that helped earn him Indiana's Mr. Football award.
When you have two backs averaging around 5/carry, methinks you should run, run and run some more. But coach Shoop didn't agree today. Purdue had the lead for the majority of the game, yet Appleby passed the ball 48 times, completing a solid 65% of his passes along with an eye-popping TD...A play in which he stiff armed a Marshall DB with his left hand, repositioned the ball in his right and tossed it to Anthrop for the score. He used his size and strength quite well to shed tacklers and blitzing Dlineman today...but he clearly missed coverages, forced the issue and panicked at times. He threw a total of four interceptions...two of them that were returned for TDs by Marshall. The second came as Purdue was trying to patch a drive together that would have put them ahead.
Purdue's RS Junior QB not only made mistakes, he made the biggest type of mistake a QB can make. Ghosts of Drew Brees past popped up with these pick sixes...sadly, neither Appleby's ability nor Shoop's offense reminded any of us of the gunslinging Drew Brees.
Along with Appleby's mistakes, Griggs missed a 38 yard FG that was pretty important. Purdue was down just three points (31-34) as the offense sputtered down the field late in the game seeking to attempt to tie the game or take the lead.
And there's the rub, right? And it's been the rub- when Hazell teams need a stop, the defense allows a 70 yard drive for a score. When they're given multiple possessions to ram the ball down the defense's throat and put the game away, they go three and out...and when their solid kicker is give the chance to nail a very makable 38 yarder in perfect conditions, he puts it off of the left upright.
The culture is broken. Great programs with great leadership win games they shouldn't and nail down games that are in hand. Good programs beat the teams they're supposed to and put up a fight in nearly every game. Crappy programs give teams that have never beaten a B1G opponent their first victory over that conference.
Hazell is now 4-21 as Purdue's HC. He's won 16% of his games as Purdue's HC. My interns have already left the office, but if they were here they could probably fact check this- he's either one of or the least-winning coach in the first 25 games of his time at Purdue. And whether I like the guy or not doesn't matter right now. His teams lose way too much.
Is Purdue better than last year? Maybe. The offensive line looks to be the strength (as advertised). The corners, especially in man coverage look solid. The RBs are legit. And the DLine is actually putting pressure on the QB at times. The problem is failure is always an option with this team...and it comes at you from a variety of directions, when success is absolutely mandatory. I thought Hazell's attention to detail might make Purdue a little boring to watch, but they'd be fundamentally sound. That hasn't been the case.
In previous seasons, the team had little identity. This season, it looks like they might be able to run the ball very affectively...until Shoop decides to pull the plug on that operation at an inopportune time. Defensively, they look like they can provide pressure on the QB up the middle and have great cover corners. BUT, Hudson is in love with the super-soft zone with a four man front...so there's that.
Great news: They welcome Indiana State to God's country next week, and they'll be able to enforce their will on the mighty Sycamores. Bad news: I'm not sure I can find three more victories on the schedule after that based on what we saw today. Can they improve? Yes. Have we been surprised by a Hazell team yet? Sure, but those surprises have been the type that left me sad that I had tickets in my hands for any games later that season.
One of my good friends coined the term Football Siberia last year, for the state of the program. It's still cold...and I still see little daylight in this never-ending winter following the opener of the 2015 season.
See you guys at the ISU game...I'll be wearing a winter coat in the 90 degree heat...holding a handful of rotten eggs.