Barring a complete and utter miracle of an unexpected turnaround, the Darrell Hazell era in West Lafayette ended today. Yes, it is very likely he will coach the final 10 games of this season. There is even a chance Purdue beats teams like Nevada, Illinois, Penn State, and Northwestern so he hangs around for another year (although that is unlikely). Even then, today proved that Hazell simply cannot lead Purdue to any sort of sustained success on the football field. There can be brief moments of success, such as the Nebraska game and challenging Michigan State, but today was just another example of Hazell’s teams being completely and utterly incapable of sustaining any momentum whatsoever.
As I said all week: this was the type of game that an improved Purdue team wins. Instead, Purdue was down 14-0 before scoring, down 21-7 at halftime, and 31-7 before a frenzied comeback reeled in the few remaining fans in the middle of the last round of rain just enough to believe. Purdue got the ball back down 11 with about 6 minutes left. At that point all the old fans like me, that remembered the miraculous comebacks against Michigan State in 1997 and Minnesota in 2001, thought maybe, just maybe, another miracle was happening.
David Blough completed a pass over the middle to Domonique Young to midfield, but was picked off on the next play when he threw into triple coverage. It was Mike Tyson’s third interception of the day, and he served as the official executioner of the Hazell era. For even the diehards like me that expect to be Purdue’d, it was cruel.
To anyone that saw this game it was plain that Cincinnati didn’t play that well, but still was comfortably in control because of Purdue’s ineptitude. The Bearcats, up 21-7 after an interception in the end zone before halftime, had plenty of time and three timeouts to put the game away, but they slacked off and did not score. They allowed Purdue to move the ball and maintain possession, but they kept the Boilers off the scoreboard. It was like they toyed with Purdue. Cincy wasn’t great, but they really didn’t have to be. They were the better, more prepared team before even setting foot on the field and it showed.
A few plays really stand out:
· Kahlil Lewis only had one carry, but it was for 79 yards on a very well designed misdirection that went down the west sideline. He was injured and left the game on the play, but it set up Cincinnati’s first touchdown and completely fooled the defense on a well executed misdirection play. It also exhibited a difference between Purdue and Cincinnati. The Bearcats could create some misdirection and consistently get to the edge when running outside. Purdue could never get tot he edge and had numerous running plays sniffed out because the defense just strung out the back with no holes.
· Purdue trailed 7-0 early in the second quarter and had already given up three third down conversions on the Cincinnati drive that reached the 9 yard line. Facing 3rd and 8 the defense was frazzled and Hazell called a timeout. Given a chance to regroup, they gave up a 9-yard touchdown keeper by Hayden Moore right up the middle. Moore only had 13 yards rushing last week against an FCS team. Last season he had 22 yards on 56 carries. He is not a running quarterback by any stretch. Today he had 58 yards on 8 attempts. Not only did he convert this, he converted it easily. At the time, I stated that it would be the deciding play of Hazell’s tenure because Purdue absolutely, desperately needed a stop against an offense that was moving with impunity. A stop meant hope, while a conversion meant a double digit lead and it opened the door to another home blowout. Not only did it fail, it failed against the least likely player and method for the opponent to succeed.
· Let it be known that Darrel Hazell officially quit on Purdue with roughly 12 minutes left in the third quarter. Purdue trailed 21-7 at home. They had received the opening kickoff and even benefitted from Cincinnati not pushing the issue just before halftime, as mentioned. Purdue drove to the Cincy 36 and had 2nd and 5. It absolutely needed a score to reverse momentum. Purdue threw two incomplete passes, then, facing 4th and 5 down two touchdowns at home and at the opponent’s 36 yard line, Hazell chose to punt. I am aware there is no guarantee that Purdue converts or even scores on the drive, but this was a surrender punt by every definition of the word. It was a callow, cowardly move by a coach that had absolutely nothing to lose by going for it. Instead, he punted. Purdue gained a whopping 26 yards of field position, and Cincy drove for a field goal that pretty much ended the game.
There are other areas that were big. J.D. Dellinger missed a very makeable field goal at a critical juncture. Blough’s interception into double coverage just before halftime was gigantic. The 12 consecutive 3rd down conversions, many of them beyond five yards, were not only frustrating, but the Bearcats got them with ease. As has been a staple under Hazell, the moment this team faced any sort of adversity it wilted.
And there you have it. Again, this was a winnable game, yet it played out very similar to last year’s losses to Virginia Tech, Minnesota, Illinois, and Indiana. Purdue had a chance to beat a decent, but not great team, and it failed in pretty much every aspect of the game.
Yeah, Purdue was a little better. It gained 500+ yards of offense, but still gave up over 500. It needed to win the turnover battle against a turnover prone team and threw five interceptions. There were absolutely no adjustments to fix the third down issue, which has been a glaring deficiency for years. The Boilers have a good running Back in Markell Jones, but its blocking strategy is to give him the ball and have him take on four defenders because, after four years, Hazell still has an awful offensive line and turnstiles for tackles. Many of the things that were glaring issues in game 1 under Hazell against Cincinnati were still there in game 38 against the same team. Yet Hazell said this:
“We lost one, right? That’s not a season,” Hazell said. “We’ll come back and go back to work and we’re certainly not going to act like Chicken Little and act like the sky is falling. We’ll figure out the problems and get it fixed.”
Darrell, I can tell you the problems. Many of them are the same problems Purdue has had since before you even got here. They have not been fixed in your three plus years, and if you can’t identify them now, you never will and they will never be fixed. Period.
Mike Bobinski is an unknown when it comes to what he will do to fix things, but it is clear to pretty much everyone that after four years there has been no improvement anywhere. I will credit the players for playing their hearts out and even playing hard enough to get back into the game late, but they are constantly out of position and there has been minimal talent development in four years. Hazell has his guys in place. He has been building them to this point, yet nothing is really different.
Barring a miraculous and completely unexpected turnaround it is very clear that the Hazell era is over. Purdue might beat Nevada and a Northwestern team that is a mess right now, but even those are likely stretches because Hazell-coached teams have a tendency to make even bad teams look really, really good (unless they are named Purdue). Purdue cannot tackle, it out of position on third down defensively almost every time, can move the ball but not finish drives, cannot get any pressure whatsoever on a quarterback, can’t stop the run, can’t kick a field goal, and can’t generate anything in the return game. Like last year, it might win another game, but only if its opponent screws up royally.
But other than that we’re fine.
And there is no quick fix, either. The talent is simply not there to be Tressell-lite like Hazell wants. He is not a light’s out recruiter. There is no offensive or defensive scheme that at least is trying something different. At this point I would take a Ken Niumatalolo from Navy because it at least offers a different look aside from, “generic offense only poorly run” as has been the Hazell M.O. Hazell’s replacement has to find a new system that at least keeps opponents guessing. He needs to fix the offensive and defensive lines that can’t open holes or pressure the quarterback. He needs to fix a massive recruiting deficiency. He needs to reignite a fanbase that would have to wake up to be apathetic. And, he needs to do this all on a budget and with a financial and facilities handicap that is well behind the rest of the conference.
At least basketball is 62 days away. (Oh wait, Cincinnati kicked us in the nuts there, too).