Notre Dame Football 2014 Off-Season Preview: Purdue Boilermakers

Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

Yes, Purdue is still on the schedule.

PURDUE BOILERMAKERS

Purdue_medium

2013 Record: 1-11

F/+ Rank: 114

Wins: Indiana State

Losses: Cincinnati, Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Northern Illinois, Nebraska, Michigan State, Ohio State, Iowa, Penn State, Illinois, Indiana

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Season Recap

Just about everything went wrong. Purdue fought valiantly in a close loss to Notre Dame--4th time that's happened in 5 years--and that might have been the highlight of the season. The Boilers nearly fell to Indiana State, lost 8 games by at least 20 points, lost at home to Illinois for the first time since 2001, and lost at Indiana for just the second time in nearly a decade and a half. Their 11 losses were the most in school history. Their lone victory joins the 1993 season as the only Purdue effort to gain just one win since World War II.

Series: 57-26-2 Notre Dame

This rivalry has been lopsided since the middle of the Reagan Administration. Since 1986, the Irish are 23-5-0 against Purdue. The Boilers lone win in South Bend during that time frame was during Willingham's disastrous final season in 2004. Notre Dame is also 17-1 against Purdue since 1976 when the game is in South Bend.

Coach Resume: Darrell Hazell (1-11, 2nd Season)

Quite the rough start to Hazell's first season in coaching in major college football. However, many Purdue fans seem willing to exercise some patience after walking away from the Tiller/Hope era. Hazell certainly has the background that would suggest he'll turn into a fine head coach--he has a great resume as an assistant--but almost putting up a goose egg and only having 3 full years of head coaching experience can't give anyone the warm and fuzzies just yet.

Linemen Situation: Major Rebuild Mode

The offensive line is losing a ton of bodies. Left tackle Kevin Pamphile (12 starts in '13, 21 career starts), left guard Devin Smith (8/14 starts), right guard Trevor Foy (5/22 starts), and right tackle Justin Kitchens (12/25 starts) are all gone. That leaves redshirt junior center Robert Kugler as the only returning member on the line who started every game last year, plus redshirt sophomore Jason King (5 starts at LG) and redshirt sophomore Jordan Roos (6 starts at RG) come back with some experience.

Purdue is likely banking on a pair of JUCO prospects to plug in at each tackle position in Corey Clements and David Hedelin. However, Hedelin may be facing a 5-game suspension from the NCAA for playing with a club team in his native Sweden.

On the other side of the ball the Boilers are losing defensive end Greg Latta (12 starts, 32 tackles, 1.5 TFL), defensive tackle Bruce Gaston (12 starts, 48 tackles, 7 TFL), and defensive tackle Ryan Isaac (6 starts, 18 tackles, 0.5 TFL). That leaves just defensive end and 5th-year senior Ryan Russell (11 starts, 35 tackles, 5.5 TFL) as the lone major contributor on the line.

Returning Quarterback: No, but Yes

Purdue began the 2013 season with senior Rob Henry at quarterback and that's who played against the Irish. However, he was benched in favor of true freshman Danny Etling who ended up making the last 7 starts of the year. Etling finished with 1,690 passing yards on 55.8% accuracy with 10 touchdowns and 7 interceptions, although his last game against Indiana saw him pass for 485 yards and 4 scores.

Redshirt sophomore Austin Appleby saw a little bit of action last year and seems to be offering some mild competition in the off-season. I'd expect Etling to hold on to the position, though. Watch out for early entry David Blough as he might eventually see the field even if the Notre Dame game is too early in the season for us to face him.

Biggest Problem for 2014: Improvement at O-Line

As mentioned above, Purdue has a lot of work to do up front on offense. Their offense last year was abysmal (14.9 PPG, 4.56 YPP, 2.52 YPC) and the spring outlook is not positive that the offensive line is going to be able to protect the quarterback and open run lanes very well.

This is a team that ran for 805 yards last year. For the whole season! That's less than Notre Dame's 2007 season. Purdue lost very little at the running back and wide receiver positions which should help but a young quarterback with an inexperienced line smells like trouble again.

Biggest Strength for 2014: Wide Receiver/Tight End

All top 5 receivers return from a year ago. Fifth-year senior Gabe Holmes is back at tight end after leading the team in receptions through their first 2 games last year before going down with injury. Another 5th-year senior Justin Sinz is also back at tight end after making 10 starts and leading the entire team in receptions for 2013.

In total, Purdue is returning 90.2% of their receptions and 93.5% of their reception yardage from a year ago.

Offensive Scheme: Pro-Style/Multiple

Purdue's offense under Darrell Hazell has been interesting. He hired John Scoop to run the offense (formerly Bears & North Carolina OC) and he is very much a B1G-type of pro-style coach. I'm sure they will want to run the ball a lot but due to their record last year they were behind so much it became impossible.

We'll see how things evolve this year. In West Lafayette last year Purdue mixed a lot of different sets. There was a lot of shotgun, and stuff from under center. Two-receiver sets with several tight ends was very common as was a lot of motioning.

Special Teams: 3/4

Punter Cody Webster departs Purdue after handling the duties for the past 4 seasons. Junior Paul Griggs returns as the place kicker after making 6 of 12 attempts last year.

Corner Frankie Williams and wide receiver B.J. Knauf both returned punts last year and are back for 2014. Knauf also got involved in the kick return game along with running backs Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert who both return.

Famous Alum: Orville Redenbacher

The famous popcorn maker grew up in Brazil, Indiana and graduated from Purdue University in 1928 with a degree in agronomy. Redenbacher also was a member of the track team and marching band in college.

Random Stat: 6

That is the number of rushing touchdowns by Purdue last year, ranked 120th in the country and last among major conference teams. That mark is tied with Rutgers and Washington State for the fewest rushing scores among major conference teams over the last 4 seasons.

Summary

There's not a lot to be optimistic about with Purdue as they head into what should be another painful rebuilding season. Hammer and Rails summed it up succinctly in early April:

Every area of the game needs to improve and arguably the three best players (DT Bruce Gaston, CB Ricardo Allen, and P Cody Webster) are all gone.

The schedule is easier than last year (CMU, WMU, Southern Illinois out-of-conference, plus no Ohio State, Michigan, or Penn State) so a repeat of 1-11 doesn't seem likely. Still, this team has many holes.


I'm interested to see how Purdue rebounds from losing some key pieces on their defensive line. For a while there players like Ryan Kerrigan, Kawann Short, and Bruce Gaston gave Purdue one of the strongest D-lines in the Big Ten, but now these players are long gone. How will the defense shape up if the front seven is weaker than at any point over the last 6 or 7 years?

The Boilers have played Notre Dame close over the past 2 years thanks to 14 total tackles for loss and limiting the Irish to 143 rushing yards on 73 carries for a dismal 1.95 yards per rush. If they can do that again it's either tremendous development by Hazell or some sort of curse. I don't expect this game to be close in the fourth quarter this year.

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