Pivotal Season for Hope

We're almost exactly 11 days from the first kickoff of our Boilers' first game.  And while there are plenty of intriguing storylines coming out of West La Fiesta, ticket sales are still sagging and the general vibe from fellow Purdue fans is somewhere between 'Meh' and 'We'll see'.  Sure, Purdue went to its first bowl game in four years last December...but beating a MAC team in December doesn't light people ablaze these days.

In previous seasons, Coach Hope blew out so much sunshine during camp, the media had a crispy, painful reddish glow.  But this year it's been different- he's answered questions about personnel more directly, and hasn't inflated any specific player, at least in a noteworthy way, that didn't seem to deserve it.  But that's not all that's changed around the program...and that's what I'd like to look at today.

At the end of last season, we were less-than-rosy about our outlook about the team.  But as months went by, Hope got a new contract, the recruiting class was signed, and winter workouts began, I began to get optimistic.  J didn't sing the same tune.  And after watching some games on DVR and BTN, my optimism watered down a bit.  But I've gotta give Coach Hope credit, he's trying to change things.

We all saw how lousy the defense played last season; and on this very site, we requested to see changes made on the coaching staff on that side of the ball.  The D was shell-shocked by UND, Crushed by Wisconsin, beaten up by UM...and even in the games Purdue won, opponents were able to move the ball with relative ease, in a number of ways and at inopportune times.  A change was needed...and multiple changes happened in the offseason. Hope got a new DC and three other new coaches on the defensive side of the ball.

Next, we've complained for seasons about stupid penalties and overall stupid play.  Hope and the staff correctly diagnosed this problem as a point of emphasis this offseason.  He's brought in officials for scrimmages and even a few practices to try to make the team understand when they're making mistakes...and that he wants to see it changed.  We won't know if this tactic was enough for a few months.

Slow starts to the second half plagued Purdue all of last season.  The third quarter did Purdue in on more than one occasion as the offense would stall and the defense looked listless.  Hope thinks the halftime schedule that the team has been using is the reason.  He thinks the team hasn't had enough time to get loose and get mentally prepared.  So he said the team will come out of the locker room earlier in '12 and will have strength and conditioning staff on the field to help guys stretch and get physically ready.

Overall slow starts to the season have been a problem for Hope throughout his career...even before his time at Purdue.  EKU fans told me that his teams would lose an early game that they shouldn't annually...and at Purdue it's been no different.  Hope and members of the team seem very conscious of this problem and have talked about it with the media- how they can't afford to drop a pre-con game versus a lesser opponent.  Talk though, is only worth so much.

Finally, we begged and pleaded for Hope to make a decision about the quarterback position...and others.  We believe that Hope's inability to make the difficult personnel calls have been part of his downfall.  Sadly, this concern hasn't been addressed, and has become more of an issue.  Last season, Purdue had two QBs- and it didn't seem like either had the proverbial command of the offense that we wanted to see.  So, in 2012, Hope says he'll play three.  That's not exactly the solution we were hoping for.  He also says we might see two kickers split the duties of PATs, field goals and kickoffs.

Maybe this tactic is useful when two young positional players are battling for a spot.  MSU effectively decided between Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol back when they were Freshman by allowing them both to play.  It worked out well for both as Nichol became a WR and Cousins became an All-Conference QB.  Heck, Purdue did the same thing when Orton and Kirsch were both iffy in the early oughts.

But, to have snaps being split by two Seniors and a Junior seems to make little sense. We've all heard Nord and Hope alike call Marve an NFL prospect...but never have heard that about TerBush.  YET, as camp adjourned, TerBush was still called the starter...those two things don't really add up.

So now the question becomes what will be the decision or group of decisions that are viewed as the most-important at the end of this season. We've continually said how much we like Coach Hope as a man- his enthusiasm, positivity and energy toward the program are tough not to like.  But as a coach, he's a tougher guy to make a definitive statement about.  On one hand, you've got the fact that his teams have generally played well versus UM and aOSU...and they've rallied late in the season to beat teams who no one thought they'd beat.  On the other hand, the painful early season losses, repetitive penalties and poor game management has been tough to swallow.  On top of that, his teams have yet to beat UND, get pistol-whipped by Wisconsin (time and again), haven't beaten PSU or Iowa yet and has struggled versus lousy IU teams, even when winning.

Regardless of what you think of Hope, we believe he understands the importance of this season, not only to him, but to the greater program he's worked to create.  With very few exceptions, the players on the field are his guys...and it doesn't get much better for an offense than having a Senior QB (or two) and a Senior RB in the same backfield.  Atop of that, he has a couple guys on the defensive side of the ball that will probably win a few awards at the end of the season.  So it seems like this season should be his most-successful in West Lafayette, so far...If it's not, it'll probably be his last.

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