Goshen News, Goshen, IN

Sports

September 4, 2013

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Boilermakers look to turn the page after dismal opening loss

WEST LAFAYETTE —  Darrell Hazell wants Purdue’s players to break their old habits with a new way of thinking.

He expects to see resilience, encouragement and hope. It might be the only way he revive the Boilermakers program.

Three days after taking a peek down his sideline and seeing the shocked expressions on the faces of his players, Hazell made it clear there needs to be an attitude adjustment on the sideline.

“Sometimes, and I’ve seen this before, sometimes you get paralyzed by the scoreboard and it doesn’t allow you to unlock your potential,” Hazell said Tuesday. “So we are going to make sure that our guys are focused on the game and not the scoreboard. That’s more important.”

The 42-7 rout by Cincinnati over the weekend raised questions about expectations for the rest of this season. Some are even clamoring for a quarterback change just one game into Hazell’s career. Don’t bet on it after Hazell asked for patience with Rob Henry, who took his first snaps as the starting quarterback since 2010 against the Bearcats.

Tough starts are certainly not unprecedented at Purdue (0-1).

Similar concerns reverberated in West Lafayette following Joe Tiller’s debut, a 36-22 loss at Toledo that looked even worse on the field than it did on the scoreboard. Purdue rebounded to finish 9-3 in that year. Four seasons later, Tiller led the Boilermakers to Pasadena, and he wound up as the school’s career leader in victories and one of its most beloved coaching figures.

Nobody expects Year 1 of the Hazell to take a similar trajectory in large part because of an unforgiving schedule.

Regardless, Hazell has work to do and his first task is getting the players’ minds back on track.

“It was kind of a ‘Here we go again’ thing from the past,” defensive end Greg Latta said Tuesday. “We just have to be mentally tough.”

Hazell has already met with the three captains — cornerback Ricardo Allen, defensive tackle Bruce Gaston and Henry. Defensive coordinator Greg Hudson also pitched in to help reinforce Hazell’s unwavering message.

“We talked about it specifically, that you have to be able to respond when those situations happen, and you have to respond in a positive way,” Hazell said. “Greg and I actually talked about it yesterday — encourage each other when one unit might be struggling. That’s part of the game. ... We talked about making sure that we support each other in those situations and that’s how you move through those tough situations throughout the course of the game.”

It might not be such a challenge this week when Hazell makes his home debut against reeling Indiana State (0-1).

The Sycamores are coming off a 73-35 thumping at Indiana last weekend — a score that would have been worse had Indiana not taken a knee four straight times inside the Indiana State 20 over the last 2½ minutes.

Plus, the Sycamores could be without their top player, running back Shakir Bell. He left the Indiana game just before halftime with what was originally diagnosed as a separated right shoulder. On Tuesday, team spokesman Ace Hunt said doctors are now calling it a bruised shoulder and that Bell is expected to travel to Purdue on Saturday. Whether he plays is expected to be a game-time decision.

But the Boilermakers are more concerned with righting their wrongs.

“It starts with the seniors,” left tackle Kevin Pamphile said. “Guys like me, we’ve been there, we’ve experienced those losses and we’re tired of it. We’re tired of that feeling.”

Hazell doesn’t want to see a repeat of those dour looks again, either, and he’s making sure the players understand.

He’s instructing the offense to be at the line of scrimmage with 15 seconds left on the play clock to avoid the confusion and communication mishaps that occurred at Cincinnati. He’s scaling back the playbook to simplify the game plan. He is changing the defensive lineup — inserting Will Lucas at weak side linebacker, moving Sean Robinson to the strong side and replacing Ryan Isaac with Ryan Watson at nose guard.

And he hopes the combination works.

“I think the biggest thing right now is for us to play with a tremendous amount of confidence, no matter what the situation is,” Hazell said. “One of the messages to the team on Sunday is that it doesn’t matter what the scoreboard says or the clock says, you’ve just got to play and everything else will take care of itself.”

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