2015 CFB Preview – Purdue

    Purdue BoilermakersGo to Team Page BoilermakersGo to Selection Page           Purdue has taken the step back, but the leap

    July 2, 2015

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    Purdue has taken the step back, but the leap forward has to be coming soon.

    By Pete Fiutak | @PeteFiutak

    Danny Hope didn’t exactly take the college football world by storm – that I had to look it up because I couldn’t remember who the coach was before Darrell Hazell sort of points to that – but the guy at least got Purdue to a few bowl games. The whole idea behind hiring Hazell in 2013 was that he was going to grow with the rebuilding job. It was supposed to take a while, but two wins over FBS teams in two years isn’t getting it done.

    But that’s okay. Purdue wouldn’t have come close in the Big Ten title chase last year if Bill Belichick was the head coach – the program needs work and needed a talent infusion – but after two years, the building has to lead to something.

    2013 was a complete and utter disaster, but the team was more competitive throughout last season, losing to Minnesota by one, coming up short at Indiana by a touchdown, and doing a decent job in losses to Michigan State and Wisconsin, but that’s not enough. The team needs an identity and it needs a hook, and this year, that needs to be as the team that might come up with a few shockers.

    It’s a veteran team coming back and there’s enough depth to start creating more good position battles. Nine starters are back on an offense that ran the ball well at times, but was woefully inefficient through the air and just couldn’t keep up the pace overall.

    Eight starters are back on a defense that showed promise against decent passing teams and wasn’t totally awful against the average ground games. More than anything else, and this goes for the offensive side, too, Hazell has youth to go along with all of the experience.

    That’s the goal. That’s the point. Let the young players take their lumps and figure it out, and hopefully there’s a payoff sooner than later.

    That can come faster in the Big Ten West than the East, and now this season has to see the improvement while flirting with a six-win season thanks to a relatively easy schedule.

    At the very least, the Hazell era has upside. After the last two years, Purdue fans are ready.

    What You Need To Know About The Offense: The offense that was woefully inefficient throwing the ball and came up with 17 points or fewer in seven games has more work to do. The line will be terrific with outstanding C Robert Kugler and all five starters returning. QB Austin Appleby showed glimpses of excellent last year when he wasn’t throwing interceptions, and now he’ll have to be far better with several question marks at receiver and without the top running backs from last year. The production has to be far, far better no matter what – Purdue can’t survive averaging 344 yards a game again.

    What You Need To Know About The Defense: This isn’t going to be a dominant defense, but it’ll be better. There’s the potential to start doing far more with a young and talented linebacking corps that should quietly grow into a force as the season goes on. The line needs to find pass rushers, but it should be solid on the inside with Ra’Zahn Howard and Ryan Watson trying to gum things up. Frankie Williams is a good, versatile defensive back leading a talented group with plenty of upside.

    What to watch for on offense: Does Purdue have the talent at the key spots to start cranking up the numbers? Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert were lost in the shuffle of great Big Ten running backs, but they were fast, dangerous options who had their moments. They need to be replaced at the same time the passing attack has to be far more efficient and far more dangerous. TE Justin Sinz is done, and WR Danny Anthrop is still trying to get past a torn ACL. Worst yet, Hunt was the team’s leading receiver. There are decent-looking options at running back and receiver, and the line is a strength, but stars need to emerge.

    What to watch for on defense: The very, very young linebacking corps should grow into a force. It might take another year to get there, but this might be the building block of the team for the foreseeable future. Ja’Whaun Bentley is turning into a major playmaker in the middle, coming off a terrific true freshman season, and now-junior Jimmy Herman and now-sophomore Danny Ezechukwu have the athleticism and size to be stronger. There will still be mistakes, but as long as this threesome can stay intact, the potential is there to be excellent.

    The team will be far better if … the defense can get off the field. It’s a bad mix when you have a passing game that can’t seem to get the ball down the field or move the chains, and a defense that can’t come up with third down stops. The offense is still going to have problems going on long, sustained drives, but the defense has to do its part to come up with stops chances. It was even worse in the one-win 2013 season, allowing offenses to convert 56.5% of the time. 2008 was the last time the Purdue D was under the 40% mark.

    The schedule: Marshall is rebuilding, but it’s still a road game against a dangerous offensive team. Purdue is still a Big Ten program, and it has to act and play like it in the opener. Indiana State needs to be a layup with Virginia Tech and Bowling Green to follow. Those might be home games, but the Hokies and Falcons are going to be solid.
    – It’s the yearly big break that Purdue faces Indiana as the rivalry game, but having to go to Michigan State from the West is a problem. Not dealing with Ohio State, Penn State or Michigan is obviously great.
    – Back-to-back road games at Northwestern and Iowa late in the year will be trying, but that’s the only real problem with the away games – there isn’t a big block of them to overcome.
    – There’s a nice run of three home games in four dates with Minnesota, Nebraska and Illinois all coming to West Lafayette. Unfortunately, they’re wrapped around a road game at Wisconsin.
    – WATCH OUT FOR … Indiana State. Purdue can and should win without too much of a problem if it doesn’t fall asleep, but the Sycamores went to the FCS playoffs last year and should put of a good effort against an in-state big boy. The Boilermakers will be coming off the road trip to Marshall and the Virginia Tech home game.

    Best offensive player: Senior C Robert Kugler. If you’re going to hope for a rebuilt/rebound year, it all has to start up front. With so many question marks at the skill spots, Purdue needs to count on its veteran line to pave the way. With all five starters returning, this should be the team’s biggest strength, and it all starts with Kugler up front. An all-star in the classroom, he’s athletic, quick, and consistent. This is his line, and this is his offense – he’s the leader and main man.

    Best defensive player: Senior DB Frankie Williams. The secondary is a big puzzle that needs to be put together after losing Landon Feichter at one safety spot and Taylor Richards from another, meaning Williams might have to fill the role at one of the jobs if he doesn’t step up again at corner. A good all-around defensive back, he’s tremendously quick – he’s terrific on punt returns – can ball-hawk, and can provide the pop.

    Key player to a successful season: Junior QB Austin Appleby. With one of the nation’s least efficient passing games, Purdue has to slow down on the interceptions after giving away 16 past year, and it has to start pressing the ball down the field a bit more after averaging a horrendous 5.2 yards per try. Appleby had his moments as a runner as well as a passer, but he has to be more consistent and has to cut down on the mistakes. He killed the offense at times with two picks or more in four of the final five games of the year including three in the loss to Indiana. He’s expected to be better, but he has to be a lot better if Purdue is going to be more dangerous.

    The season will be a success if … Purdue wins five games. There’s too much uncertainty on offense and too many big things needing to happen on defense to expect a bowl season, but if the Boilermakers can beat Indiana State, Bowling Green, Illinois and Indiana at home, that’s the base to work from to shoot for its best season in in the Hazell era. Unfortunately, they’re not going to win all four of those games, so they need to come up with an upset over a Minnesota at home or a Northwestern or Iowa on the road. Being two wins better, though, isn’t asking for the world in Hazell’s third year.

    Key game: Sept. 26 vs. Bowling Green. There are several Big Ten fish to fry – seriously, Purdue, beat Indiana for the first time in three years – but the losses to MAC teams have to stop. The Boilermakers lost to Central Michigan last year and Northern Illinois in 2013. Bowling Green is one of the MAC’s best, but Purdue is a Big Ten team. It needs to play like it at home.

    2014 Fun Stats:
    – Fourth Down Conversions: Purdue 12-of-30 (40%) – Opponents 4-of-18 (22%)
    – Time of Possession: Opponents 31:05 – Purdue 28:55
    – Third Quarter Scoring: Opponents 112 – Purdue 55

    Players You Need To Know

    1. CB Frankie Williams, Sr.
    Will he work as a safety, or will he spend his time at corner – his more natural position? It won’t matter where he plays, he’ll be one of the team’s best all-around defenders again following up a 61-tackle sophomore season with 74 stops, seven broken up passes and three picks including an interception for a touchdown for the team’s lone trip to the end zone in the Iowa loss. Feisty in the open field and tremendously quick, he gets around well averaging almost 16 yards per punt return and doing a terrific job of hanging with the Big Ten’s more athletic receivers. Expect All-Big Ten honors, even though teams are going to stop going his way.

    2. LB Ja’Whaun Bentley, Soph.
    The 6-2, 260-pound man in the middle, Bentley came up with a whale of a true freshman season finishing second on the team with 76 tackles with 3.5 tackles for loss and an interception. He has the speed and quickness to be more of a pass rusher – he could work outside if needed – but he’s build for the middle where he can grow into the leader and top playmaker for the front seven over the next three years. Good throughout the year, he became better and better as the season went on making 11 tackles against Nebraska and 11 more in the season finale against Indiana. There are lots and lots of big plays in his future.

    3. DT Jake Replogle, Jr.
    Always going full tilt and always working to try to make things happen, he has the motor and he has the drive on the inside, he came through with a strong season making 41 tackles with 3.5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss as one of the team’s most active defenders. Steady against the run, he turned into more of a factor behind the line late in the year as the one who created the most disruption. At 6-5 and 275 pounds he’s built well – good for a 3-4 end at times – and now could do more with the improvement up front.

    4. PK Paul Griggs, Sr.
    One of the team’s best weapons, he came through time and again hitting 16-of-20 field goals including bombs from 52 and 53 yards out against Wisconsin. All four of his misses came from beyond 40 yards, and he was automatic from close range. He has the leg to be tried out from deep without much worry, and even though he’ll miss from time to time, he’ll hit the next one – he didn’t miss two kicks in a row all of last year.

    5. C Robert Kugler, Sr.
    The offensive line has been an issue over the last few years, but this season it should be the team’s biggest positive with all five starters back for a ground game that needs to be more physical and needs to come up with a bigger and better push for the ground game. Kugler is a great place to start in the middle with a year as the leader and with the quickness to do more on the move. Bulked up, the former tight end is now up to 298 pounds on his 6-3 frame. He’s more of a technician than a blaster, but he’s a great one to work everything around.

    6. QB Austin Appleby, Jr.
    With excellent size, and good arm, and enough mobility and speed to worry about him taking off, there’s enough talent and potential there to hope he can turn into the type of quarterback to take the program to another level. He saw a little time early one before taking over in the second half of the year – now he has to be consistent. With 11 interceptions – and nine in the final five games – he made way too many mistakes and didn’t do enough to work the ball down the field. He completed 15-of-20 passes for 202 yards and a score against Illinois, with 76 rushing yards and two scores, but he only hit 18-of-46 passes against Nebraska – he has to be both steady and spectacular.

    7. RB Keyante Green, Soph.
    A different sort of back than the smallish speedsters Purdue has been using over the last few years, the 5-9, 219-pound sophomore was a solid recruit for the program and now will get the shot to show what he can do in a full-time role. While he’s quick, he’s a physical enough back to bang away a bit with the speed to crank off yards in chunks, averaging 7.37 yards per try with 199 yards on 27 carries. Can he be more of a receiver? Can he be a workhorse. The team is about to find out.

    8. DE Gelen Robinson, Soph.
    While he’s built like a linebacker, the 6-1, 250-pound true sophomore is a rising star on the end after making 20 tackles with two sacks in his first year. Bulked up, he’s better built now for the job up front and should hold up better against the run. A dangerous pass rusher with a world of upside, the pressure is on to become one of the key disruptive factors up front. At least that’s the expectation.

    9. NG Ra’Zahn Howard, Jr.
    The Boilermakers need to get better against the run, and they need bulk on the inside – that’s where Howard comes in. At 6-3 and 323 pounds he has the mass, and he can move a little bit with decent quickness off the ball. He’s not an interior pass rusher with just one sack, but it’s his job to hold down the nose. The anchor, he only made 20 tackles and didn’t hangout behind the line, but as long as in one piece and occupying two blockers, he’s doing his job.

    10. DT Ryan Watson, Sr.
    A versatile interior option who can work on the nose or as a pass rushing tackle. At 6-2 and 298 pounds he’s a short, squatty lineman who can make plays. Can he do even more? He only made 17 tackles with four sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss, but he has the experience, the quickness and the upside to close out his career doing far more. He has to be a factor and not just a part of the rotation.

    Head Coach: Darrell Hazell
    3rd year: 4-20
    5th year overall: 20-30
    Schedule
    Sept. 5 at Marshall
    Sept. 12 Indiana State
    Sept. 19 Virginia Tech
    Sept. 26 Bowling Green
    Oct. 3 at Michigan State
    Oct. 10 Minnesota
    Oct. 17 at Wisconsin
    Oct. 24 OPEN DATE
    Oct. 31 Nebraska
    Nov. 7 Illinois
    Nov. 14 at Northwestern
    Nov. 21 at Iowa
    Nov. 28 Indiana
    Ten Best Purdue Players
    1. CB Frankie Williams, Sr.
    2. LB Ja’Whaun Bentley, Soph.
    3. DT Jake Replogle, Jr.
    4. PK Paul Griggs, Sr.
    5. C Robert Kugler, Sr.
    6. QB Austin Appleby, Jr.
    7. DE Gelen Robinson, Soph.
    8. RB Keyante Green, Soph.
    9. NG Ra’Zahn Howard, Jr.
    10. DT Ryan Watson, Sr.

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