Goshen News, Goshen, IN

December 3, 2013

Purdue hoping late progress carries over to 2014

MICHAEL MAROT
Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS — Not even a bad season can deter Darrell Hazell.

The Purdue coach is sticking to his original plan. He believes his young quarterback is bound for stardom, and he's confident those young receivers can emerge as playmakers. He insists his young defense will emerge as the kind of reliable, stout unit the Boilermakers need to get back to the postseason and he's intent on getting more speed into the program next season.

It's time to find out if Hazell has it all right.

"You have to get players in, but you also have to develop the players that are in your program," he said after Saturday's 56-36 loss. "We'll work the plan and we'll be a good football team when it's all said and done."

The question is when.

Hazell doesn't have a definitive answer yet after one of the worst seasons in school history.

Purdue went a whole month without a taking a red-zone snap, wound up losing its final 10 games, failed to score more than 24 points in any game until the season finale and did not beat a Bowl Subdivision team all season. It closed things out by turning over the Old Oaken Bucket to the dreaded Hoosiers last weekend, and Hazell & Co. will be reminded of all those struggles next season when they try to avoid matching the school's record skid — 11 straight losses from 1906-08 — in the August opener against Western Michigan.

Hazell went through similar struggles at a moribund program at Kent State before turning things around in Year 2, and he's been studying how Jimmy Johnson in Dallas and Chuck Noll with the Steelers and Barry Alvarez at Wisconsin turned floundering programs into consistent winners.

"They had a plan and they were going to stick to the plan," Hazell said. "They understood that things aren't always exactly the way you want it when you first go into a situation. But you've got to get it to the point where you do want it."

That's where Purdue (1-10, 0-8 Big Ten) must take its next step.

Hazell has already started building toward a brighter future.

After changing quarterbacks in early October, handing the starting job to freshman Danny Etling, Hazell made an almost unprecedented midseason flip from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 because the staff determined it was better suited to the players.

With the exception of offensive linemen Kevin Pamphile and Justin Kitchens, all of Saturday's offensive starters return and last weekend's two-deep roster included 10 offensive players who have been in the program one or two years. That list does not include starting receiver B.J. Knauf, whose season ended early with a sprained ankle. Even with all those young players, Purdue managed to score nearly as many points (87) in five November games as it did in seven games in August, September and October (92).

Plus, if David Blough follows through on his oral commitment, the Boilermakers will welcome one of the nation's top prep quarterbacks to the mix. It doesn't get much better than that.

We have a young offense and they're going to be great," senior cornerback Ricardo Allen said. "You can't look around the country and see as many freshmen playing a lot and making plays on a consistent basis as they do. So just give it time, it's going to be great."

Defensively, Purdue must replace three starting linemen — Bruce Gaston, Ryan Isaac and Greg Latta — and Allen, its best cornerback. But the replacements may already be on campus.

Three freshmen and a sophomore served as backups along the line and another freshman, Leroy Clark, backed up Allen, giving the Boilermakers hope things will be dramatically different next season.

All the Boilermakers have to do now is execute Hazell's plan.

"Obviously, we're not where we want to be record-wise, but we'll make strides. We'll make significant strides," Hazell said. "We're not as close as we'd like to be right now. That's all part of the growth process."

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