When Purdue started the 2013 season and the Darrell Hazell era at Cincinnati there was a buzz of anticipation. Hazell had us all thinking a quick turnaround was possible. In fact, here is what I wrote in advance of that game:
As J Money intimated, this is a game that can be the start of something very big for Purdue. If the Boilers win on the road at a very good opponent, suddenly games at home against Notre Dame, Northern Illinois, and Nebraska don't look as daunting. Eight or nine wins may not be out of the question. If Purdue loses, especially if it gets blown out, we're in for a rough time that could see as few as three wins the rest of the way.
The day before the game there was a massive send off for the team on Monument Circle as everything looked promising. Sadly, that day (August 30, 2013) was likely the high point of the Darrell Hazell era. The Bearcats won 42-7 in a game that was 7-7 until just before halftime, then Purdue decided to take most of the second half off offensively. We discovered it was a sign of things to come as the Boilers crashed to a 1-11 season and they are 6-30 since.
The Bearcats have gone 25-14 since then to be a respectable team in the American Athletic Conference. Last season they were 7-6 after losing the Hawaii bowl, but this is still a good team that came close to beating 13-1 Houston. Once again, it is a chance for Purdue to prove itself and it could be the start of something big as a result.
Unfortunately, no one thinks Purdue is much better than the same team that was blown out three years ago.
2015 Record: 7-6, 4-4 American
Bowl result: Lost 42-7 to San Diego State in Hawaii Bowl
Blog Representation: Down the Drive
Series with Purdue: Series tied 1-1
Last Purdue win: 9/2/2001 at Cincinnati 19-14
Last Cincinnati win: 8/31/2013 at Cincinnati 42-7
Head Coach: Tommy Tuberville (155-91, 25-14 in 4th season at Cinicinnati)
Last Season for the Bearcats:
Last year was a very up and down year for the Bearcats. They never lost two games in a row, but only won two games in a row once on their way to a 7-6 season. Their best win might have been a 34-23 win over Miami behind backup quarterback Hayden Moore. I was at this game and they were able to control the game offensively with first down after first down and a strong ground game.
They had a close call in a 33-30 loss at Houston, who was 13-1. They also barely got past Miami (OH) 37-33, and the Redhawks were 3-9. It was about as bland of a year as you can ask for, with a bowl blowout at the end.
The quarterback position should be fine for Cincinnati. Gunner Kiel, he of Indiana, LSU, AND Notre Dame commitment fame, is pretty much the unquestioned starter... as long as he is healthy. When healthy he has been pretty good. Last season he threw for 2,777 and 19 scores against 11 interceptions. He missed two games due to injury and the bowl game for personal reasons, however. Hayden Moore performed well in his absence, throwing for 1,885 yards and 9 scores against 11 interceptions, but Moore was sacked 17 times to Kiel's 9.
Where the passing game will struggle is in returning receivers. Basically, everyone is gone from the Bearcat receiving corps. The top 6 receivers are all gone, leaving Nate Cole (19-262-1) as the top option. According to the SB Nation preview the Bearcats will also be using a new scheme:
Tuberville replaced Gran with former Miami Dolphins coordinator (and Nebraska quarterback) Zac Taylor.
Taylor was the device with which Bill Callahan attempted to shift Nebraska's offense to a West Coast attack. In two years in Lincoln, he threw for 5,800 yards, 45 touchdowns, and 20 interceptions, and he's quickly risen in the coaching ranks. In 2011, he was a Texas A&M graduate assistant, but within two years he was Miami's quarterbacks coach, then took over play-calling two years later.
Taylor will bring to UC a no-huddle attack -- familiar territory for his personnel -- that likely focuses a bit more on the run than Cincy's 2015 attack did. This is because of both philosophy and necessity.
The running game was pretty good. Tion Green, Mike Boone, and Hosey Williams each ran for over 700 yards and Green had 8 touchdowns. Williams is gone, but Boone had 9 touchdowns and 749 yards, meaning Purdue's front four will need to be vastly improved.
The offensive line returns three of five starters in Deyshawn Bond, Ryan Leahy, and Idarius Ray. Bond and Leahy were 2nd Team All-AAC last season too. Both tackles must be replaced, so if Purdue is actually going to have a pass rush this is the team to try it out against.
Will the Terry Malone "semi-competent" offense have success where the infamous "Shoopfense" failed spectacularly? We won't learn a lot against Eastern Kentucky, but this was a terrible team against the run a year ago:
Cincinnati got a decent push in short-yardage situations but was outright pathetic in most other regards. The Bearcats ranked 128th in Adj. Line Yards, 119th in Rushing S&P+, 114th in stuff rate, and 127th in Adj. Sack Rate. They had absolutely no disruptive presence up front, and the closest thing to a disruptor (end Silverberry Mouhon) is now gone.
Purdue has Markell Jones and a bunch of talented, but untested backs behind him. Once again, we see a glaring weakness in an opponent (run defense): Several times in the past Hazell and co. have utterly failed to exploit said weakness. There really is no excuse to not run the ball with impunity here, and Jones needs to have a big day.
Cincinnati has plenty of experience at linebacker led by Eric Wilson, who had 78.5 tackles and a fumble recovery in 2015. There is not a lot of pass rush back with only Sione Tongamoa having more than three sacks. Their line will have experience, but it was no very good last year. Of course, our own offensive line has experience but has not been very good.
While the front seven is not expected to be very good, the secondary should be pretty solid. Safety Zach Edwards had three interceptions and 78 tackles last season. Grant Coleman returns from injury after a good 2014 season. Tyrell Gilbert broke up six passes last year, and surprisingly Mike Tyson has emerged as a good nickel back despite being a 49 year old retired boxer.
Cincinnati Special Teams
Andrew Gantz was deadly accurate last season by hitting 14 of 16 field goal attempts. Sam Geraci has a mammoth leg as the punter at over 46 yards per punt. That makes for two very good specialists, while Purdue is breaking in a freshman placekicker and has a sophomore punter.
Is the second game of the year too early for a must-win game? Probably not for Darrell Hazell. We're all accepting that Purdue should easily win its FCS opener or we're in for an absolute disaster of a season. The Bearcats, however, are probably the best team we face in the first five games. The Bill C. Preview doesn't know what to think about them, either. With completely new receivers and a shaky front seven they could be 3-9 or 10-2 depending on if it all comes together. They view them as an utter wild card. If Purdue can swing a victory here it might be the first legitimate signs of hope for Hazell on the field.
Let's put it this way: If Purdue can beat Cincinnati it is more than capable of beating Nevada, Illinois, and Maryland to follow. That means a 5-0 start and some of that tangible progress Morgan blathers on about.
If there is going to be a turnaround and Hazell is going to save his job it has to start in this game. If the Bearcats walk out of Ross-Ade with another blowout win and score 50 points or more (something a visitor has done four times at home under Hazell and a grand total of NEVER before he came) it is a very bad sign.
Way Too Early Prediction:
Cincinnati has a good quarterback and a decent running game. Purdue's front four is a gigantic question mark. Through 36 games Darrell Hazell has actively avoided attacking a glaring weakness like Cincinnati exhibits in its front seven. Until proven otherwise I am going with what my eyes have seen. Cincinnati 45, Purdue 27