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H&R Cares: Helping Darrell Hazell

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We’re just trying to help, Darrell.

NCAA Football: Cincinnati at Purdue Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

There is a lot to be mad about if you’re a Purdue fan, but this quote from Darrell Hazell in particular stood out from Saturday:

“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.”

Let’s look a little closer:

“We’ll figure out the problems and get it fixed.”

I’ll be right back.

Okay, I am back

This is absolutely infuriating because it is plain to anyone that the same problems that were there in game 1 at Cincinnati were still there in game 38 when the Bearcats had their return game in West Lafayette. Apparently, Dollar Bill Darrell is a little slow on the uptake, so let’s try to illuminate for him.

Problem: the defensive line cannot get any sort of pass rush whatsoever

Through two games Purdue has one sack and zero QB hits according to the official statistics. That one sack came from Andy James Garcia on Saturday, a reserve linebacker. It is his only tackle this season. As for the rest of the defensive line, they are not getting anywhere near the quarterback on passing downs. One of the largest reasons that Cincinnati converted an unbelievable 12 straight third downs on Saturday is because Hayden Moore had no pressure at all. You don’t need to be a great quarterback to convert third downs if you get to sit there comfortably in the pocket with no defender coming near you.

This has been a constant issue throughout the Hazell regime too. In year one Purdue had only 14 sacks in 12 games. Year 2 was slightly better with 20. Last year Purdue had 21. This is from a team that prides itself on defensive ends. We used to turn out a player every year that would be responsible for 10 or more sacks himself. Hazell has never had a player get more than four in a season. Also, in all three previous season Purdue has given up more sacks than it has generated (38, 24, and 30).

The Boilers tried to remedy this in the offseason by bringing back Randy Melvin, but so far it is still an issue. Darrell can’t see this, but it is his responsibility to fix issues such as this and he has failed miserably.

Problem: Purdue is absolutely, completely, utterly atrocious on third down

This problem is related, but when a non-running quarterback runs for 58 yards (more than double his entire season total last year) including an easy 3rd and 8 touchdown from the 9 yard line, that is a problem. Through two games teams are converting on third down at a 57% rate. This is after playing our FCS opponent and having a very good half against them. That is currently 123rd out of 128 defenses in America. Only Arkansas, Cincinnati, Virginia, Kentucky, and Arkansas State are worse. In terms of the sheer number of conversions Purdue has given up a nation’s worst 23 so far.

Again, this is not new. In 2013 Purdue gave up third downs at a 57% clip. In 2014 it was 46% and in 2015 it was a slightly better 43%. If Purdue “improved” to 43% this year it would get up to 91st nationally out of 128 teams!

What’s more troubling is that this new defense is designed to help with coverage. It has five defensive backs on the field most of the time and there is not a lot of blitzing. If the front four is not creating pressure we still have seven back in coverage, yet Cincinnati was still able to easily find receivers wide open on Saturday. At one point the Bearcats converted 12 straight third downs, and many of them were at least 3rd and five.

Problem: Purdue cannot stop the run

The Cincinnati totals were slightly skewed because the Bearcats had a single rush of 75 yards on a very well designed and blocked play, but they still ran for 262 yards. Teams are now rushing for 219 yards against us. That is 107th in the country. It is not a new problem, either. In 2013 Purdue gave up 235.4 yards per game on the ground. In 2014 it was 192.1, and last year it was 214.9.

To me, the worst example was last year, when Illinois came in averaging only 67 yards per game on the ground and ended up running for more yards than they gained in their previous four Big Ten games combined. Again, this is not new, either. Hazell has had 38 games to work on this and it is still an issue.

Problem: Purdue cannot open holes for the ground game

The difference between Purdue and Cincinnati on the offensive line when it came to running plays was night and day. Cincinnati consistently got the edge for its backs and there was rarely a Purdue defender coming in to close the gap. The 75-yard run was just one of many examples. Conversely, Markell Jones never had an edge established and there was almost always a secondary defender or two crashing to the outside. Most of the time Jones had to plow into what small hole there was and it was a testament to his talent that he gained 3-4 yards. It is no wonder he hurt his shoulder when he had to run face first into multiple defenders all the time.

Surprisingly, Purdue’s 5.7 yards per rush this year is a high for a Hazell coached team after seasons of 2.5, 4.7, and 3.8. The 48 yard TD from Brian Lankford-Johnson and two good scrambles on Saturday from David Blough are skewing results somewhat though. Jones only averaged 3.1 yards per carry on Saturday and Purdue was at 4.1 as a team.

I will credit the offensive line for this, however: David Blough has yet to be sacked.

Problem: Special Teams sucks

The missed field goal from J.D. Dellinger on Saturday, something that even a freshman kicker should hit, was an absolute backbreaker. The Boilers were driving to get back into the game and had success moving the ball, but came away with nothing after a successful drive. Purdue is generating next to nothing in the return game too. Malik Kimbrough is averaging only 20 yards on kickoff returns and in the rare situations where he gets to return a punt he is at -1 yards on three returns.

This isn’t new either. Paul Griggs was a section 8 last season to the point where Purdue didn’t even bother field goal attempts beyond about 25 yards for most of the year.

Problem: Bizarre decisions

In the first half, down 21-7, Purdue faced 4th and 2 at the Cincinnati 46 just before halftime. Purdue went for it and converted on a pass to DeAngelo Yancey. The drive did not net points because of an interception in the end zone, but the point is that Purdue went for it and continued a drive it needed just before the half. Had Purdue scored there it is down 21-14 at halftime with the ball coming back and maybe that elusive momentum. It didn’t score, but the point is that it had a chance because it went for it on 4th down earlier and converted.

Fast forward to Purdue’s first drive of the second half. Again down 21-7, Purdue was on the Cincinnati 36 this time, facing a 4th and 5. If you’re inside an opponent’s 40 it should be a simple decision: go for it or kick a field goal if it is a makeable kick. I understand not trying the field goal, but Dollar Bill Darrell sent in the punting unit.

It was at this point that Hazell basically surrendered the game.

Purdue almost got lucky when Brayden beard muffed the punt, but he was able to recover and Cincy got the ball at the 12. Purdue made a chickenshit call to gain 26 yards of field position. In three plays (and an easy 3rd and 8 conversion) Cincinnati was already in that same area of the field had Purdue gone for it and failed. They would drive for a field goal that all but signaled the end of the game.

This last point is just a coach bailing out on players that he has already failed to develop. People can talk about a lack of talent across the board, but it is year four. Hazell recruited the majority of these players. He and his staff have also failed to develop them in meaningful ways. As we can see above, the same mistakes that were there in year one are still here in year four. This is before you address things that aren’t statistically tracked, such as missed blocks, missed tackles, missed assignments that lead to big plays, incorrect routes, and poor reads. Those are still there too.

At some point it is not a talent issue but a coaching issue. The fact that these problems have persisted for 38 games have made it pretty clear it is a coaching issue.