West Lafayette, Indiana is the next stop on our “Big Ten Tour” as Travis Miller, editor of SB Nation’s Hammer and Rails, took some time to discuss the upcoming season for the Boilermakers.
The purpose of BTT is to interview writers who are closely connected with their respective programs from around the conference. It’s always good to know your opponent and what people who cover them have to say.
JH: Purdue is facing a changing of the guard as Darrell Hazell will be entering his first season as head coach of the Boilermakers. What does Hazell bring to the table that makes him a better choice than Danny Hope?
Miller: Well, hopefully competent coaching. Danny Hope and his offensive coordinator, Gary Nord, infuriated most fans with the juggling of quarterbacks for the last two years. It worked to an extent in 2011 with Robert Marve and Caleb TerBush, but last year they added Rob Henry and made it a 3 QB system. When it was apparent that Marve was better even playing on a third torn ACL, but they continued to rotate all three, it was maddening. Yes, part of the reason Purdue won three straight games to end the season was that Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana were awful, but part of it was that Nord wasn’t calling plays because he severely hurt his back and Marve was finally named The Man. Hope lost most of the fans when Purdue looked completely unprepared for the Wisconsin and Michigan games at home. It was believed that Purdue could at least be competitive there, but Purdue got drilled at home in games that were hyped up. Hazell has already shown that he is much better in preparation and he has endeared many by saying there will be one main QB and no rotation. That is enough to make him better than Hope in the eyes of many.
JH: Now that we know that Rob Henry has been named the starting quarterback, what are your thoughts on the decision? Is this something that is destined to fail or will Henry see success this year?
Miller: I like it. Henry is the lone quarterback on the roster with any significant game experience. I think he gives Purdue its best chance to win this year. He is a good runner and as a senior has the respect of his teammates. It has been three years since he has had a lot of time at the position, but still did well in spot duty last season. His passing is also much better than when he was a redshirt freshman in 2010. Under Purdue’s last two coaching changes (Joe Tiller in 1997 and Hope in 2009) the incoming coach had a senior QB that had never really been the main starter before, but had a solid season. Billy Dicken became all-Big Ten in 1997 under Tiller and Joey Elliot, while Purdue was only 5-7, had a fine year statistically and Purdue was only a handful of plays defensively from being as good as 10-2 that year.
JH: Talk a little bit about the offensive and defensive side of the ball. Who are you expecting to have big seasons for the Boilermakers.
Miller: On offense I am excited to see running backs Brandon Cottom and Akeem Hunt flourish. They are very similar to Trayion Durham and Dri Archer, who both rushed for 1,200+ yards last season at Kent State under Hazell. I don’t think both will run for that much, but They at least have the talent to have success in Hazell’s system if the offensive line holds up. On defense Bruce Gaston and Ricardo Allen are expected to be the standouts. Andy James Garcia will be an interesting newcomer, as he is a redshirt freshman that beat out a 3-year starter in Will Lucas at outside linebacker. Our play at linebacker has been nothing short of awful for a decade, but Marcus Freeman as a new linebackers coach and Greg Hudson as a defensive coordinator are very promising additions.
JH: Are there any incoming freshman that come to mind who could make an impact on this team day one?
Miller: Running back Dalyn Dawkins had a solid camp and is in line to be a productive third running back. Receiver Dan Monteroso was well on his way to being a contributor before breaking his collarbone. He is now out at least six weeks. Those two were the most likely true freshmen to play.
JH: What are your biggest areas of concern with this football team?
Miller: As always, linebacker is a concern. I won’t believe that is fixed until I see better play. Also, The offensive line is in flux. There are multiple redshirt freshmen that are pushing seniors for playing time. Jordan Roos appears to have already pushed Cody Davis out of one of the guard spots there.
JH: Finally, what are your expectations from the team this season?
Miller: I am thinking another 6-6 season and a third straight bowl would be good, especially since the schedule is very, very tough. Outside of the four I teams (Indiana State, Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana) Purdue is likely to be an underdog in every game. Three of those games are in November, too. A lot will ride on how good Purdue looks in its opener at a pretty good Cincinnati team. If Purdue wins that game I think it will turn a lot of heads. Cincy won 10 games last season and shared the Big East title. They have a lot of pieces back from that team as well. If Purdue can win that game and beat a really good Northern Illinois team in the non-conference it will show that they are already better than hope’s best teams. Danny Hope struggled to win those types of games. He lost to Northern Illinois in 2009, Toledo in 2010, Rice in 2011, and last year’s blowout at the hands of Minnesota were all similar in that they were games Purdue should have won. Cincy and NIU are very good, but not unbeatable non-conference teams that are probably on par with the middle of the pack in the Big Ten. Getting one or both of those games would be a major confidence boost.