INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Purdue coach Darrell Hazell is still searching for answers at the midway point of the season.
Last week's quarterback switch didn't jump start the Boilermakers' struggling offense. Reshuffling the depth chart at receiver didn't make the passing game any more productive.
And as the frustration continues to mount, Hazell continues to make adjustments. This week, the possibilities include adding a new running back to the rotation and another reduction to the plays that will be called Saturday against Michigan State.
"Some of those things are frustrating," Hazell said Tuesday. "You're working through those things and the whole goal of the program is you have to continually try to get better at little things, and there's a lot of things that you have to get better at. That's part of the growing process and our staff is working tirelessly to get those things fixed."
A week ago, Hazell noted that the decision to replace fifth-year senior Rob Henry at quarterback with true freshman Danny Etling had given the Boilermakers (1-5, 0-2 Big Ten) a boost of energy in practice, an infusion he hoped would translate into more points last weekend. It didn't.
Etling finished 14 of 35 passes for 184 yards in his first college start, throwing his only touchdown with 39 seconds left in the game, and one interception. He also was sacked five times.
Purdue's running game got stuck again, gaining just 32 yards on 25 carries and lost a fumble on a toss play when the running back took his eye off the ball.
Even worse, Purdue was 3 of 14 on third-down conversions and 0 for 3 on fourth-down conversions. The combination kept the defense on the field far too long, and the combination resulted in another embarrassing home loss, 44-7 to Nebraska.
The Boilermakers are still last in the league in rushing (77.8 yards per game, 2.8 per carry) and are now averaging 15.3 points per game — the sixth-lowest lowest total in the FBS and the worst of any power conference team in America.
What's the solution? Fewer turnovers, a more proficient passing game and finding some semblance of a legitimate ground game.
"It's funny, you watch the tape and they are getting hats on hats, our guys are blocking guys, but the lanes are so small," Hazell said.
That part is correctable. But things are about to get tougher this week.
The Spartans (5-1, 2-0) are yielding 58.0 yards rushing per game, the lowest in the Football Bowl Subdivision, and just 2.2 yards per carry.
Hazell is giving redshirt freshman Robert Gregory a chance to help. At 6-foot-2 and 211-pounds, he could give Purdue a more imposing inside running threat than either 184-pound Akeem Hunt or 175-pound Dalyn Dawkins.
Hazell, who already shrunk the playbook earlier this season, is now intent on editing it again so the Boilermakers can focus on doing four or five things well.
"Our margin of error is not very big so we have to be able to eliminate those mistakes to give ourselves a chance to be competitive in the stretch," Hazell said. "What we said about the quarterback position, we have to narrow the package down, not because it's a knowledge thing, but it's more about an execution thing, not only for the quarterback but for everybody on offense. We have to be able to execute better."
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