It is time for some positive outlooks here! I admit I have been far too negative when it comes to football, but a new season begins in 31 days! That is reason for excitement. Purdue at least has some pieces and can when 6-8 games if the following ifs can be answered:
- If Terry Malone is substantially better and an offensive coordinator.
- If said offense can stay on the field for drives and actually let the defense rest. the whole "defense wears down because the offense does nothing" has cost Purdue at least 10 games under Hazell.
- If Ross Els' gamble on a 4-2-5 defense pays off.
- If defensive line coach Randy Melvin does as good of a job as he did the first time around and creates another nasty defensive line.
- If David Blough or Elijah Sindelar settles the quarterback situation finally.
- If Purdue takes advantage of a very favorable starting schedule.
- If the offensive tackles get settled and protect the quarterback.
- If some young defensive backs play well early.
- If all the experience of multiple beatdowns this year pays off.
Yeah, that's a lot of "ifs", but they at least give some pause for hope. The good news is that the schedule is not THAT tough overall. Only one team, Iowa, is projected as a preseason top 25 team, so in theory Purdue should be much more competitive. But what do they need to do to win each game?
September 3 vs. Eastern Kentucky - Show Up - This is Purdue's FCS opponent and at least Darrell Hazell has never lost to an FCS team. One game was close, but against better FCS teams the last two years Purdue has won comfortably. As long as Maty Mauk doesn't go crazy Purdue should be fine. As always, there is no valid excuse for a Big Ten team to ever lose to an FCS team not named North Dakota State.
September 10 vs. Cincinnati - Run the Ball - When the SB Nation preview of Cincinnati said that Cincinnati was "absolutely, positively, ridiculously, absurdly dreadful" against the run then maybe we should take Purdue's talented running backs and solid run blocking guards and maybe run the ball down their damn throats. The Bearcats turned the ball over a lot last year. Get a few turnovers and kill the clock by running the ball is the ideal scenario here. With Malone, we can do that. With Shoop, he would be like, "but they are expecting the run, time to go air raid!".
September 24 vs. Nevada - Stop the Run - It is no secret that Purdue's run defense sucked last year, but I attribute much of it to a defense getting worn down from constantly being on the field due to a misfiring offense. As a result, teams ran wild in the second half against Purdue. Nevada is a strong run-first team with a dual threat QB that plays in the funky pistol formation. Purdue can probably score some points against a shaky defense, but it has to get stops on the ground.
October 1 at Maryland - Again, Stop the Run - Maryland was awful at throwing the ball last year. Four different quarterbacks threw a total of 29 interceptions and as a result they are probably going to be quite ground-oriented. They have a promising offensive line, so if Purdue can force them into 3rd and long situations it can get stops, then move the ball through the air as long as it is not throwing towards Will Likely.
October 8 at Illinois - Play like good Purdue in Champaign - The Boilers have won two straight in Champaign, and the Illini should not be that much better than they were in 2015. Purdue ran all over them in 2014 in Champaign and if Purdue does well in the first four games it should enter with some confidence. As long as we don't let Ke'Shawn Vaughn go crazy again Purdue has an excellent chance to win this one.
October 15 vs. Iowa - Surprise Everyone - The dream is to be 5-0 heading into this game with Iowa. That would already turn heads even if it comes against a slate where no one will even come close to cracking the top 25 all season. A 5-0 Purdue hosting the defending West champs would actually bring back that rare "big game" atmosphere to homecoming. The only way Purdue wins this is if it is playing with loads of confidence because of a great start and takes advantage of what would then be a decent amount of anticipation.
October 22 at Nebraska - Keep Intercepting Their Passes - Tommy Armstrong Jr. loves throwing interceptions against Purdue. He threw three against Purdue in a 44-7 win in 2013. He threw two more in 2014, and Ryker Fyfe threw four last year. If Nebraska wants to keep handing us the ball we might as well take advantage.
October 29 vs. Penn State - Slow Down Saquon Barkley - Penn State's pass blocking was atrocious last year and Barkley is one of the best running backs in America. They are going to ride him as far as they can. This was a pretty punchless offense last season, but a good defense, so it is your normal Penn State team.
November 5 at Minnesota - Again, Stop the Run - Minnesota has beaten Purdue the last two years because Mitch Leidner did not have to throw much and they were able to run well. Rodney Smith is a good back and Shannon Brooks punished Purdue last year. If the run defense is not any better this season Minnesota should run like crazy again.
November 12 vs. Northwestern - Actually Score Points - The game in Evanston last season was a winnable game if not for Shoop screwing things up and doing anything for about two quarters. The Northwestern offense is not great, but it has a strong defense. Justin Jackson can protect leads by grinding the clock too. If you make them play from behind it is the way to win.
November 19 vs. Wisconsin - Finally End the Hex - Well, last year Purdue actually stopped Wisconsin from running for 350 yards, but did nothing offensively. I don't think we can expect that two years in a row. As always, this is the most doubtful game on the schedule. Still, can you imagine a world where Purdue starts 5-0, uses that momentum to upset Iowa, then takes three of the next four to play for a West Division title here? Okay, there is about a .0000001% chance of that happening, but none of these teams are exactly Alabama, so maybe...
November 26 at Indiana - Run the Ball - Indiana is historically incapable of stopping the run. That's what made the 2014 loss so frustrating. Purdue couldn't throw the ball well, but had two good running backs playing against an absolutely lousy run defense. Naturally, Shoop called 35 passing plays even though Akeem Hunt had 171 rushing yards. Run the damn ball and keep their offense safely on the sidelines. It is not hard to beat Indiana.