WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) – Darrell Hazell sees a difference around Purdue this season. He hears it, too.
For the first time under their third-year coach, the Boilermakers are walking and talking like a team ready to make a move in the Big Ten West.
“I think our guys are starting to talk the way they’re supposed to talk, supporting each other, and making sure that they’re a very confident, quiet, confident team,” Hazell said. “It’s a great feeling to have after 2 1/2 years to finally have the locker room where you want it to be.”
The next step, of course, is to start producing results on the field. Hazell has won only four games, just one in conference play, in his first two seasons with the Boilermakers. And he’s 0-2 against Purdue’s biggest rival, Indiana.
At first glance, it may not seem much has changed this season. There’s another quarterback battle brewing, another young roster and a seemingly endless bundle of questions.
But to get things righted at Purdue, Hazell knew he first had to instill a sense of team unity and discipline. With that foundation, Hazell can start putting the other bricks in place.
He believes the Boilermakers are improving along the offensive and defensive lines and that a good start will create the kind of momentum Purdue so desperately needs. And when things go wrong, Hazell insists the players can sort them out.
“There’s such great leadership that’s starting to emerge, not only from our senior class but if you look at (sophomore) Ja’Whaun Bentley, one of our linebackers, who really stepped up and has taken on a leadership role,” Hazell said. “They police themselves so the coaches don’t have to police them.”
All the Boilermakers have to do now is prove those changes off the field will make a different on it.
“There’s much better accountability,” Hazell said. “No distractions.”
Here are some other things to watch at Purdue this season:
- QUARTERBACK CHANGES: Historically, Purdue has produced some of college football’s best quarterbacks. Lately, though, the Boilermakers have become the cradle of quarterback changes. In each of the past two seasons, the incumbent starter kept his job only to lose it midseason to a less-experienced player. Now Hazell faces a similar predicament with Austin Appleby and David Blough. Making the right decision from the start could help turn things around.
- BETTER TO RECEIVE: Purdue returns only one receiver with more than 20 catches last season, Danny Anthrop. He had 38 receptions despite missing three games. To take another step forward, the Boilermakers need much more productivity out of this group. The top weapons are expected to be sophomore Greg Phillips and junior D’Angelo Yancey.
- BACKFIELD QUESTIONS: In addition to the battle at quarterback, the Boilermakers must replace their top two running backs from last season, too. Hazell named three potential replacements at the league’s media day: sophomores Dexter Knox and Keyante Green and freshman Markell Jones.
- DIGGING IN: A year ago, the defense improved. Now, in Year 3, Hazell needs this group to make an even bigger jump. Purdue will be without sophomore defensive end Gelen Robinson for at least the first two games because of a suspension from a summer arrest for operating a vehicle while intoxicated. Still, Hazell believes Jake Replogle and a host of others in the front seven will make a big difference.
- ATTENDANCE WATCH: Purdue made the coaching change three years ago, in part, to inject excitement into the fan base. But attendance figures have steadily decreased and last season was no exception. The key culprit, of course, is the lack of wins. A few more victories this season certainly would help draw bigger crowds to Ross-Ade Stadium on Saturdays, but the schedule may not help the Boilers get off to that fast start: The non-conference schedule includes a trip to Marshall, a good MAC team in Bowling Green and Virginia Tech; the Big Ten opener is at Michigan State.