The Darrell Hazell Era kicked off earlier today in Cincinnati, and it didn't exactly go as hoped.
Now I picked the Boilers to beat the Bearcats earlier today, but did I actually think it would happen? Or was I just riding a wave of optimism? This was the first game under the watch of a man that many think has the chance to take Purdue to the heights we saw during Joe Tiller's best years, and those heights are still attainable. But after today, Purdue still sits on the runway, not ready to leave the ground just yet.
The problems we saw out on the field today were the problems we expected to see. The line is weak and pass protection is a problem. The linebacker play still leaves a lot to be desired. We don't know if Henry can throw and the team still has the discipline problems that plagued them throughout the Hope Era.
However what is even more disappointing is that the areas we thought were strengths looked like anything but today. Akeem Hunt carried the ball 7 times for 21 yards. The corners got beat and the defensive linemen got worked to the tune of 220+ yards rushing. Our best play today was a punt (a beautiful 73 yard punt at that, Cody Webster).
It is nice to have some stability at the quarterback position, but Rob Henry didn't do much to curb the worries of Boilers fans today. To be fair to Rob, I don't think Coach Hazell helped him out much either today. Part of the reason Henry has value is because he can run. If you're not going to utilize his legs in the running game, play someone with a better arm. The read option is Henry's strength. When it was run, the Boilers got results (first TD of the day). Yet Henry ended today's game with 6 carries for 4 yards. Henry doesn't have a Big Ten arm. He doesn't have the arm strength to zip it in and his passes have too much air. His 3rd quarter pick-six was something you'd see on a Thursday night at the intramural fields where people are reliving their mediocre high school careers, already planning for the night's after-party. Henry is a great guy and a great leader, but his arm is not his strength. Hazell picked his man and he needs to stay with Henry, but you have to play to the strengths of your players.
Discipline was once again a problem; something that fans had hoped would follow Hope out the door. Delay of game penalties, fumbles, missed assignments. This can all be summed up in Purdue's second drive of the game, a drive that lasted seven minutes and saw Purdue convert a 4th and 1 at the Cincy 7. I felt a sense of excitement and optimism as Hazell trotted out his offense for the short conversion, showing confidence in the guys he had on the field. Hope would have had his FG unit on the field during the review. Finally...change! Then the offense proceeded to rush for a loss, fumble the ball on a sack, receive a delay of game penalty, pass the ball for a loss, and then shank a 39 yard field goal. Optimism slowly faded from there, and here we sit, with the Bearcats sending the Boilermakers back to West Lafayette with a 42-7 loss.
One game doesn't define a season. It doesn't really define anything. But it sure would have been nice to see some of that optimism we all had pay off in the first game. Purdue will continue to improve under Hazell; you can't instill your values on a group of 85 college age kids in half a year and culture doesn't change overnight. Hazell will rally the troops for next week's game against Indiana State, and until then they'll continue to build back up one brick at a time.