It seems like we chronicle a lot of coaching transitions in this preview, and frankly, that’s because college football coaching is a thankless job. You get about two years, maybe three or four if you’re lucky, to accomplish some major changes or you’re out on your can.
And once again, we examine yet another opponent on the Nebraska 2013 schedule breaking in a new head coach. Purdue fired Danny Hope after a 6-7 2012 which saw the Boilermakers get lambasted by Michigan, Wisconsin, Penn State, Minnesota, and Indiana. Inexplicably, the Boilermakers took Ohio State to overtime, but ended the season being blown up 58-14 by Oklahoma State in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
In comes Darrell Hazell, who took a 5-7 Kent State team and made them 11-3 in 2012. Hazell brings with him offensive coordinator John Shoop who runs a conservative pro-style offense based around running the ball and occasionally throwing horizontally to dependable receivers.
Hazell and Shoop will acquire junior running back Akeem Hunt, a third-stringer in 2012 who averaged 8.0 yards per carry on his limited touches in 2012. Despite being what one might call undersized (5’9″ and 184 pounds), Hunt is speedy and was also effective in catching the occasional pass out of the backfield. Making a nice counterpart to Hunt could be Brandon Cottom, essentially Hunt’s polar opposite at 6’4″, 258. They will both likely see considerable time in a system built around running efficiency.
However, no one on the Boilermaker offense is terribly experienced. Due to injury, Purdue rotated two quarterbacks in 2012; they’re both gone in 2013 (senior Rob Henry figures to start, though 6’5″ sophomore Austin Appleby may compete). Same story at running back. Even at receiver, the top two targets leave and their replacements, Gary Bush, Dolapo Macarthy, and Gabe Holmes, combined for a miserable 5.4 yards per target.
On one hand, there’s not much experience to work with. On the other, there will be fewer holdovers from a different offensive system to retrain.
Purdue plays a fairly aggressive defense, and when you live by the sword, you die by the sword. The Boilermakers performed just slightly below the middle of the pack in every defensive efficiency ranking, while performing better against the pass than the run. Like Illinois, if the Purdue defense wasn’t making a tackle in the backfield, the secondary was probably making it ten yards and a first down later. New defensive coordinator Greg Hudson acquires a lot of experience but not a lot of talent (case in point, all five returning linebackers combined for just one sack in 2012). Replacing an Ndamukong Suh-esque DT Kawann Short (15.5 tackles for loss) and CB Josh Johnson (16 pass breakups) will be no easy task, especially considering that those two were the heart and soul of the defense, which was already pretty awful.
The Boilermakers will need to develop some run efficiency and hope experience takes its course. There’s a lot of potential here but a brutal 2013 schedule may make it difficult.
PURDUE SPECIAL TEAMS
Hazell coached an excellent special teams unit at Kent State and he inherits a pretty good punter in Cody Webster, who pinned 70% of his punts inside the 20 last year, and the aforementioned Akeem Hunt was a dangerous kick returner. With a young offense, establishing field position will be key.
SO WHAT NOW?
While Hazell looks like a promising hire, 2013 won’t be a great year to judge him by. All of Purdue’s first seven FBS opponents figure to be ranked in the top 25, and Purdue hosts Notre Dame, Nebraska, and Ohio State, while visiting Cincinnati, Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Penn State. Scraping together a four-win season should be considered a success for the year.
NAMES TO REMEMBER: RBs Akeem Hunt and Brandon Cottom
Nebraska plays Purdue in West Lafayette, Indiana, on October 12, 2013. They have only met once before, on September 27, 1958, and Purdue won 28-0.