Purdue Football – Spring Situation
The Black beat the Gold, 28-23, last Saturday in Ross-Ade Stadium before thousands tens of screaming fans. Actually, as you no doubt have seen, the largest true cheers were reserved for AJ’s nifty announcement on the field that he was coming back for his fourth year in that same Black and Gold. But what was decided in a football sense on Saturday? Surely, the Boilers have the QB situation sorted out, right? Hah, of course not. It’s only April, you fool.
Austin Appleby played for the Black team and went 10/18 for 147 and a TD in the “victory.” David Blough, who many feel might be the most talented QB in the stable, led the Gold team by going 16/22 for 173 yards and two TDs to go along with 56 yards rushing. And Danny Etling, who actually surprised many by coming back and not transferring played for both teams the way you might let your nephew at the family picnic. Danny went 11/16 for 148. Here’s a fun fact: all three QBs threw a pick! So if that doesn’t make you nervous, how about this? John Shoop has decided to move an already suspect offense to a more “up-tempo” system.
Now, sure, I’m being a little sarcastic about being nervous about that, because the truth is, I think a faster-paced system is one of the only ways Purdue can compete in the loaded Big Ten. As we’ve discussed in this space before, Joe Tiller turned a moribund program around immediately by adopting the gunslinger model and keeping the rest of the conference on their heels as much as possible. I’m in favor of this, but I do worry about the guys keeping up.
The O-line is being talked about as a strength for this squad and that’s a good thing, as both Etling and Appleby at times looked like they were running for their lives out there over the past two seasons. A little pocket protection can go a long way towards improving a guy’s confidence. Hey, if you have a few seconds to go through your progressions without fear of having your head knocked off, you’ll probably be more accurate with the ball.
Another potential strength is in the backfield. Yes, I know losing Hunt and Mostert isn’t good, but landing Markell Jones has the potential to pay quickly. Again, anything that can continue to make the QB’s (whoever he may be) life easier is a good thing. Giving him more options is one of those things that makes his life easier. Other guys to be excited about at RB are sophomore newcomer DJ Knox and Keyante Green, who had a robust 7.4 yard average last year on 27 attempts.
Yet another position that is being looked at as a likely strength for the Boilers is at LB. Stud returning players include Ja’Whaun Bentley, Danny Ezechukwu, Jimmy Herman and Andy James Garcia. It’s always nice to have returning talent and the LB corps have been pretty weak for a while now. No knock on the guys who played there recently as they worked their tails off, but when you’re trying to make tackles against athletes from OSU, Wisconsin, MSU, Nebraska, etc., there’s no substitute for talent.
Going back to the subject of attendance, eleven Big Ten schools reported their Spring Game attendance. You’ll be shocked to see where Purdue landed. For those too lazy to click the link, Ohio State led the way with 99,000+ showing up to the Shoe. Rutgers was midpack with over 15,000. IU had over 10,000, or so they say. Purdue announced 5,145 smiling faces in Ross-Ade. Mercy.
It’s just one more sobering wake-up call as to where Purdue football currently is, both in terms of success and fan support.
On the subject of superfluous fun, Purdue is getting into IU territory in terms of numbers of helmets. The boys have their tradition gold, their recently added black, and will also reportedly again wear a special helmet for cancer awareness week. Then the week of the spring game, the program announced a white alternate with gold and black trim. Coach Hazell is in danger of having more helmets than victories and this was punctuated by our friends on twitter who, whenever we show updates on new helmets, mostly all respond with variants of “That’s nice, but just WIN.” Sounds good to us.
So what does Uncle J think? Well, I’m a sucker for Purdue football for some reason. With an athletic department and some within the program sometimes seemingly trying to piss off loyal supporters, I sometimes find myself wondering why I still care. But it goes back to what we’ve talked about before – if you’re a Boilermaker, you’re one for life. It’s a hard thing to shake and if the Tiller years did anything, it planted seeds of hope in our aging minds that Purdue football can be good and can compete. To those that say the disparity in talent and resources is too great, well, that may wind up being true. But the deck was stacked against the program in those years, too, and they did some fun things in there. I feel as though the ingredients are there for it to happen – maybe not this year, but college football teams can get better in a hurry. It’s been done before and by this very coach.
Purdue has some depth/strength at some key positions, as noted above – O-line, LB, RB and QB. If you need to list some pillars around which your success will be built, that’s a pretty good set of tent poles. You have a coach who was around a consistently successful program for years and who led another, often less successful program, to one of the best seasons in its history. Sure, it feels a bit in the past now, but it still happened, and not too long ago. Coach Hazell has his guys in the program now and it’ll get harder and harder to blame anything talent-wise on the past regime.
The Boilermakers need that signature win, preferably early in the season. They need to be the land shark that takes down someone unexpectedly. That would do wonders for team confidence, reassurance that Coach Haze’s approach is correct and, not unimportantly, for fan excitement. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – the fan of this program are famished for success. They’re so thirsty for it and as I’ve pointed out before, look at the turnout before Coach Hazell’s first game before the team left Indy. If they do some exciting things – particularly early – the fans will be back quickly. Let’s hope that up-tempo leads to exciting football and wins.