Back in august I wrote a pair of posts on consecutive days. One post was the best case scenario for the 2013 season. The other was the worst case scenario. The best case scenario seems like a fairy tale right now, as everything would have had to go right to have Purdue finish at 9-3. The worst case scenario was grim, but not as grim as it really got.
My first inkling of trouble was the Indiana State game. Yes, the 42-7 loss at Cincinnati was bad, but we now see that Cincinnati is a good team. It was a 7-7 just before halftime that got out of control with an awful third quarter, so Purdue was at least competitive. Against Indiana State things looked right for less than a quarter. The Sycamores gave up 73 points to Indiana the week before, but Purdue managed only three points and was stuffed seven times on plays where it needed only a single yard to either score or gain a first down in the first half.
When a Big Ten team like Purdue cannot get a single yard against the likes of a 1-11 Indiana State team you have serious problems. That's what we had, however. Facing Fourth and 1 on the second series of the game at the Purdue 41 Akeem Hunt was stuffed at the line. Facing third and 5 at the ISU 20 on the next possession a bad snap led to a missed field goal. On the first drive of the second quarter Purdue got a First and Goal at the one but Dalyn Dawkins was stuffed twice before an incompletion led to a field goal. Not to be outdone, Purdue reached First and Goal at the 1 again at the end of the first half and was stuffed on three plays before time ran out.
Purdue basically left at least 14 points on the field there and barely held on to beat a terrible FCS team, needing an interception by Ricardo Allen in Purdue territory with 19 seconds left to clinch the win. At the time I had hoped it was a minor hiccup, but instead it was a preview of what was to come. Purdue finished the season by losing the Bucket to Indiana 56-36. The only reason it was not worse is because was Indiana was merciful after going up 49-9. Folks, when Indiana, the worst historical BCS program in the country, is beating you by 40 and feels sorry for you, you are at rock bottom.
I don't think you can call the 2013 season, the first under Darrell Hazell, anything more than an absolute disaster. With many of the same players that had been to consecutive bowl games and had at least been 14-14 the previous two years combined Purdue was blasted in almost every game. Illinois and Notre Dame were the only two FBS teams Purdue played within a touchdown, with Notre Dame being the one time all year Purdue looked like a competent, functional football team. Against Illinois Purdue scored on its first two possessions and then basically stopped doing anything against a team that had lost 20 straight Big Ten games.
- Purdue gave up 456 points (38 per game) and scored only 179 (14.9 per game). The final game against Indiana was almost triple the average offensive output of the season.
- Purdue quarterbacks were sacked 38 times for a loss of 265 yards, a huge drain on an already punchless offense.
- Darrell Hazell and John Shoop wanted a power run game, but Purdue finished 122nd (next to last) nationally in rushing, beating only Washington State, who rushed just 224 times, by far the fewest in the nation. If they rush for 102 yards in their bowl game Purdue will finish dead last with 805 yards rushing. By comparison, Wisconsin had 554 yards in a single game on the ground this year and 78 individual players have already rushed for 805 yards or more.
- Purdue finished 114th against the run nationally, just barely ahead of Indiana and Illinois. The Hoosiers had a huge gap coming into Saturday's game, but nearly passed Purdue by rushing for 401 yards to worsen Purdue's run defense while the Boilers ran for only 31 against their awful run defense.
- Purdue was 122nd in the nation at stopping third downs, giving up a first down 56.5% of the time. I was surprised it was that low and still ahead of Air Force.
- On the other side of the ball Purdue converted only 30.8% of its third down opportunities, good for 117th nationally. Basically Purdue could not get opposing offenses off the field and could not stay on the field itself.
- Purdue gave up points on 52 of 56 opponent red zone opportunities, 44 of them touchdowns. This was 119th nationally.
- Conversely, Purdue had only 26 red zone opportunities (including a big fat zero for three straight games) and converted just 19 of them, good for 111th nationally at 73.1%.
I'll stop with the numbers now because it is just too depressing. The bottom line is that Purdue was terrible in the worst area to be terrible at when it comes to football: The trenches. You had an offensive line that was a sieve, allowing 38 sacks and was completely incapable of making a hole for running backs. On the other side of the ball there was almost no pass rush with only 14 team sacks in 12 games. Opposing quarterbacks converted third downs at an alarming rate because they were rarely pressured and could wait for receivers to get open.
Almost everyone to a man underperformed on this team. Proven veterans like Gary Bush and Dolapo Macarthy did next to nothing as receivers because they were passed by promising freshmen. Danny Etling and Rob Henry both had to run for their lives on almost every play. I have said this before, but it really looked like it was true: When Purdue was on defense it often looked like it was only playing with seven players because teams could move so easily, and when Purdue was on offense it looked like it was facing 15 players it struggled so much.
Is it really a gap in talent? Can we really lay it all at the feet of coach Hazell clearing out the bad habits of the Hope era and needing time to get his commits in? Hazell at least said the right things in the beginning, and that is what got us excited. Here are some of his Big Ten Media Day quotes from back in July:
One of the first things that I said to our team, very first team meeting on that Sunday night, was Purdue was always a team that's perceived in the middle of the Big Ten. Never up here, never down here. And I told them it's going to take a lot of work but we're going to climb ourselves out of the middle and we're going to put this program on national prominence for a long point in time.
I've spent seven years at Ohio State and Coach Tressel was a big influence on me, the way I do things today. There's a lot of great values and just his demeanor through the course of my time there was something that you can take from and the great decisions that he made on game day, when those bullets are flying, it's a chaotic moment. I learned a lot from Jim Tressel there at my seven years at Ohio State.
Tressel was known for being calm under almost any circumstance and he won because of it. I see that in Hazell and think it is still one of his best traits. He is always very even and in control on the sidelines regardless of the way the game is going. Unfortunately, Tressel could fall out of bed and recruit great players to Ohio State. It is a lot harder to do that at Purdue.
The next one is probably a huge swing and a miss by Hazell:
We evaluated the offensive line for 14 practices, and I think that from practice six on I thought they continually got better. We still have a lot of evaluation to do there. I think there's about seven or eight guys that I think that we can count on.
We have to be able to create some depth early in the season by putting those guys out there and because you know at some point in time we're going to lose a guy throughout the course of the season. We'll have to try to create some depth but I think there's enough capable bodies for us to be good. We're going to try to keep it as simple as we can, for those guys and the communication is absolutely critical, for those guys and it starts with our center, Robert Kugler.
On paper, he was right. Purdue entered the season with four seniors as starters on the offensive line and five promising freshmen coming out of a redshirt year. He knew this was a key area and it looked good. Boy, did it go wrong though. Purdue loss Kevin Pamphile, Justin Kitchens, Devin Smith, and Trevor Foy, which may be a good thing. They were consistently awful all year long.
People talk about firing assistants and such, but I don't see how Jim Bridge can keep his job. I'd be happy with bringing Danny Hope back because at least he built a damn good offensive line under Joe Tiller. If there are coaching changes Bridge has to be the first to go.
The final quote I wanted to use was about his accountability:
The way I live my life -- and this is a true statement -- is I try to do the best possible job wherever I am for that particular day. Whatever happens from that point on it happens. So did I say I was going to be at Purdue or Michigan State or Ohio State, I didn't think about those things but I took notes from all those smart people I was around and I accumulated a file of those things that I think that can help us win championships.
Compare that to what he said after Saturday's loss:
"Obviously, you'd like to be closer (to success), but we're not. We're not as close as we'd like to be." We're going to continue to work the plan. We'll be a great football team before it's all said and done."
I know there have been commenters calling for Hazell to be canned immediately and they say he is in over his head. I am not one of those. He is not going to be fired this year barring something completely out of left field like massive NCAA sanctions or other off the field scandals with the players. He won't be fired after next season, either, unless Purdue faceplants to 0-12 and somehow looks even worse. We're getting at least two more years of Hazell and he is confident that the plan is being worked behind the scene that will pay huge dividends later. Barry Alvarez and Kirk Ferentz were 1-10 in their first years at their respective schools and went on to have great success. One bad year to start is far from a killer. Hazell has a long term plan and knows it will take time. We as fans have to be patient to see if that plan bears fruit.
However, it is hard to look at a season this bad and not raise serious questions about the entire program from Hazell on down. It wasn't just that Purdue was bad. It was that Purdue wasn't even competitive and couldn't perform the most basic tasks a college football team is asked to perform. The returning players from the Hope era somehow got worse and there were no all-star freshmen to immediately replace them. The 2014 recruiting class, barring some major miracles, is not looking like a program-changer on paper, either.
This is a long, major rebuild and Hazell is doing it from the ground up. He is changing bad habits and practices under Hope's players and getting his guys to do it his way. Even in a 1-11 season there were some very small positives. Danny Etling, Cameron Posey, DeAngelo Yancey, and B.J. Knauf look like an excellent quartet offensively if Purdue can just get a line to protect Etling. That improved line can open up a running game too, as the Boilers have three decent running backs in Keyante Green, Keith Byars II, and David Yancey that redshirted.
The offense can look A LOT better in 2014 with an improved line, so that has to be priority one in coaching and recruiting. Bridge needs to go because he couldn't have done a worse job if he tried, so find someone to replace him that can take Purdue's young offensive line and make it effective.
Defense is another matter. You're talking about fixing a unit that as a whole has been broken for a decade save a few standouts like Ryan Kerrigan and Kawann Short. As far as I am concerned all 11 starting spots need to be up for grabs as bad as they were at the end of the season. Purdue loses its best two defenders in Bruce Gaston and Ricardo Allen, and two other seniors in Ryan Isaac and Greg Latta. Every other spot needs to be up for grabs because no one that returns was consistently good.
Rubin Carter, Jon Heacock, Greg Hudson, and Marcus Freeman have a huge task ahead of them because they work in a conference built on great defenses and they have nothing near that right now. If you have a bad offense and a bad defense in the Big Ten you're Purdue this year. If you have a great offense and a bad defense you're Indiana, who still didn't go to a bowl despite the perfect schedule to reach one. The defensive coaches have to find a pass rush and they have to get linebackers that don't get burned on third down and can tackle in the running game. If you don't have good linebackers in the Big Ten, you're dead. That's been the case at Purdue for 10 years now. Gelen Robinson is only one player and can only do so much. Purdue has got to find a way to take the returning talent it has on defense and drastically improve it because right now the defensive side of recruiting is rather thin.
I don't know what 2014 is going to bring. The schedule is a lot easier with Western Michigan, Central Michigan, and Southern Illinois as three very winnable non-conference games. Purdue also gets Illinois, Northwestern, and Indiana in the conference who won a combined five Big Ten games, two of them over Purdue and two over Illinois. A turnaround is far from impossible, but Hazell is already hearing the hounds at his door. Fans want to see improvement next year in the form of wins and at least competitive losses. Hazell needs to take a serious look at his assistants like Bridge, John Shoop as offensive coordinator, and Carter on the defensive line because those units were universally awful.
For now I am still on board and believe in the long term plan because at least there is a plan and a vision, unlike under Hope. You can't deny, however, that it is off to a disastrous start.