Dienhart: Purdue has plenty of questions this spring

There is just no sugarcoating it: Darrell Hazell’s debut was brutal. How brutal? The 1-11 season arguably was the worst in Purdue history. And the one win came vs. a FCS foe that went—you guessed it—1-11. There was very little that this team did well last season during a winless Big Ten campaign in which blowouts were the norm. Perhaps this summarizes things best: The best player on the team was the punter.

The offense was especially bad, scoring 16 or fewer points in eight games and getting shutout twice. The Boilermakers ranked last in the Big Ten in scoring offense (14.9 ppg); total offense (282.9 ypg); rushing offense (67.1 ypg). The defense wasn’t much better.

So, the only way for the program to go is up, right? That’s the hope. And the long, long road to improvement begins this spring. There are myriad questions to answer. And the infinite Internet is a good place to do it. But let’s keep this to three key areas.

1. Offense. You just read the grisly numbers. There can’t be many—if any—more inept offenses in the last 50 years of Big Ten football. The big issue was a horrible offensive line. Here is the understatement of the year: The o-line has to get a better push in the ground game. The entire team isn’t very strong and lacks a tough physical edge. That has to change. And no unit needs to get bigger, tougher, meaner and stronger than the o-line. The interior has potential, led by center Robert Kugler. The tackle spots are a massive concern. The staff inked two JC tackles, but they won’t be on campus until the summer. Until then, guys like Jack DeBoef, Jason Tretter, J.J. Prince and Joey Warburg need to step up.

2. Who is going to run the ball? Akeem Hunt is back, but he’s not a cornerstone. Brandon Cottom and Raheem Mostert will get a chance to strut. Cottom is a big, physical back who can move the pile. Mostert is a burner who must show he can block and catch the ball. Also, watch the quarterback spot. Danny Etling flashed potential as a true freshman in 2013 when he wasn’t getting rag-dolled by defenses. But watch hot-shot incoming freshman David Blough. He didn’t graduate high school early because he wanted to enjoy the glorious West Lafayette spring and attend Grand Prix. The Elite Eleven quarterback from Texas wants to win the job.

3. How will the d-line look? Honestly, all three areas of this defense will be scrutinized—and need mucho improvement. But it all starts up front with a line that was a big disappointment last season after it was billed as the strength of the defense. Purdue was 10th in the Big Ten in rushing defense (235.4 ypg). And no team had a more anemic pass rush, as the Boilers had a Big Ten-low 14 sacks. If the front can’t stop getting trucked, this defense has no shot. If the defensive line does play better, it will go a long way toward the back seven improving. (Those linebackers. Oh, my.) It’s time for youngsters like RaZahn Howard, Evan Panfil, Jake Replogle, John Strauser and Ryan Watson—among others–to stand and be counted on the d-line.

Key losses: CB Ricardo Allen; DT Ryan Isaac; OT Trevor Foy; DT Bruce Gaston; OT Justin Kitchens; OT Kevin Pamphile; G Devin Smith; P Cody Webster

Spring practice starts: March 6

Spring game: April 12

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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