Big Ten Football Preview: Purdue

Story posted August 30, 2013 in Sports, CommRadio by John Galiani

The Purdue Boilermakers head into 2013 coming off of a 6-7 season in 2012, which was capped off by a lopsided 58-14 defeat to Oklahoma State in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. The biggest storyline heading into this year is the hiring of new head coach Darell Hazell, formerly in charge of Kent State, and responsible for their rapid turnaround. Hazell was hired this offseason and high expectations have followed him to West Lafayette, after he lead the Golden Flashes to a surprising 16-10 record in his two seasons as Kent State’s head coach, including an impressive 11-3 record last year.

Offense

On the offensive side of the ball, Hazell inherits a rather inexperienced group that will be without its team leaders in passing, rushing, and receiving from last season. Taking over under center for the Boilermakers will be senior Rob Henry, who narrowly beat out true freshman Danny Etling for the starting job in camp. Henry was originally the started during the 2010 season until suffering a torn ACL, which kept him out of the entire 2011 season as well. He has not started a game since.

Looking to help Henry’s cause on offense, new starting running back Akeem Hunt has proven his big-play ability, as the speedy tailback averaged 8 yards per carry while serving as the primary backup last season. Hazell’s coaching style favors an aggressive running style kept within the tackles, and the offensive line looks to be one of the strongest pieces of the team. New starting center Robert Krugel, a sophomore, has exceptional talent, but will need to step in and produce right away in order for Hazell’s physical running style to be effective.

Rounding out the offense will be an unproven group of receivers headlined by freshman B.J. Knauf and junior Dolapo McCarthy. Despite the talents of these two, the truth is, Purdue lost their leading two receivers from last season and lack of depth at the receiver position is a very real issue that the Boilermakers will have to overcome. Look for senior tight end Gabe Holmes to see a healthy amount of targets his way to help combat the depth issues at receiver.

Defense

Moving on to the defense, there will certainly be more experience from this group compared to the offense as they are returning 8 starters from last year’s team. At the heart of this unit will be junior strong safety Landon Feichter who led last year’s defense in tackles (80) and interceptions (4).

The defensive line will also have its fair share of talent, as returning senior defensive tackle Bruce Gaston will be the anchor, while receiving some help from sophomore defensive end Ryan Russell. Russell returns after his impressive freshman season in which he recorded 8.5 tackles for a loss along with 4 sacks.

The biggest question mark for this Purdue defense is going to be its linebacking corps. Junior Joe Gilliam, senior Will Lucas, and former quarterback turned linebacker, junior Sean Robinson, are slated to see the most time as the season begins. However a severe lack of depth at the position has been of great concern this offseason and might ultimately be this team’s biggest weakness. 

Special Teams

There won’t be any drastic changes to this season’s squad in terms of special teams, as they return both kickers from last season in sophomores Paul Griggs and Sam McCartney, who each have some experience. They also return experienced senior punter Cody Webster who returns for his fourth season of starting duties, and he has already been named to the Ray Guy Award preseason watch list for best collegiate punter.

Schedule

Perhaps more monumental than any roster issue Purdue faces going into this season is the difficulty of it’s 2013 schedule. As if regular Big Ten matchups against powerhouses such as Ohio State, Nebraska, and Wisconsin weren’t enough, Purdue also faces a grueling non-conference schedule as well. Early games against teams such as National Championship runner-up Notre Dame, Cincinnati, and Northern Illinois leave make the Boilermaker’s schedule as challenging, if not more-so, than any other team in the Big Ten and will be sure to test Purdue week in and week out all season long.

Overall

This is a Purdue team that has some undeniable talent on it and with Darell Hazell now at the helm, will no longer be a team to take lightly. However unanswered questions of depth at a few key positions and a taxing schedule will be too much to overcome and this has the feel of a long season for the Boilermakers.

John Galiani is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email jjg5333@psu.edu.