Sep 7, 2013; West Lafayette, IN, USA; Purdue Boilermakers quarterback Rob Henry (15) hands off against the Indiana State Sycamores in the 2nd half at Ross Ade Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sport
In the off season Purdue parted ways with former head coach Danny Hope and hired Darrell Hazell, head coach of Kent State the last two seasons. Hazell transformed Kent State into a dominant MAC program and came one win away from a BCS game. Fans hoped that Hazell would resurrect the Purdue football program and eventually challenge for the B1G conference title. After two games, it appears that Hazell has further to go then he may have originally thought.
After a 42-7 pummeling by Cincinnati in Purdue’s season opener, the offense hoped to gain traction against an Indiana State defense that allowed 73 points the previous week to Indiana. But the Boilermakers could only muster a rushing touchdown and two field goals. In both games, turnovers, miscues and penalties plagued the offense and disrupted their rhythm. Purdue did squeeze out a victory over Indiana State with the help of a kickoff return by RB Akeem Hunt and a gritty performance by the defense.
Purdue currently ranks last in the Big Ten in several categories, including total offense (255 YPG), scoring offense (13.5 PPG) and rushing offense (99.5 YPG).
After a productive fall practice, Senior Robert Henry, a mobile quarterback with a good arm who suffered injuries the last two seasons, won the starting quarterback job. In Henry’s first start Cincinnati’s defense forced him into two interceptions and prevented any pass over 10 yards. Henry called the performance the worst of his life.
In the team’s next game, Henry hoped to bounce back against a bad Indiana State defense, but he again failed to throw a touchdown pass and Purdue leaned on their special teams and defense to win the contest. Hazell told the media after the game that “We obviously are not very efficient on offense just yet.”
Akeem Hunt, Purdue’s only senior returning back, has rushed for 103 yards on 29 carries with most of those yards coming against Indiana State. The most promising part of the rushing attack comes from true freshman Dalyn Dawkins. Dawkins has compiled 61 yards rushing on 15 carries while collecting 4 catches for 52 yards.
Purdue averages 99.5 ypg rushing, good for 102nd in the nation.
In the team’s first two games Henry failed to push the ball down the field and routinely dumped the ball off to his outlet receiver. Gabe Holmes leads the team with 69 yards on 9 receptions, but the next two leading receivers are running backs: Dayln Dawkins has 52 yards on 4 catches and Akeem Hunt has 43 yards on 3 catches. One upside, Henry has spread the ball well with 10 different players catching passes for Purdue in two games, including 3 true freshmen.
Entering 2013, coaches seemed high on an offensive line that returned four seniors including fifth year seniors Trevor Foy(RG) and Justin Kitchens (RT). However this unit has turned into a liability as they have struggled to protect Henry and open running lanes for Hunt and Dawkins. In the game against Indiana State Purdue failed to score on six straight plays from inside the two yard line and was forced to settle for a field goal.
Miscues have also hurt the offensive line. Center Robert Kluger and QB Robert Henry have had several fumbled snaps while a pulling guard jarred the ball loose from Henry in the Cincinnati game causing a turnover.
After the disheartening loss to Michigan and the dismantling of the defense by Devon Gardner, Notre Dame will welcome with open arms a Purdue offense that has looked anemic thus far this season. The Irish defensive front will pressure Henry without a complicated blitz package which should help a secondary that was completely exposed by Gardner.
The only opportunity I can see for Purdue to move the ball is, believe it or not, the game plan they have executed up to this point: short passes to receivers and backs out of the backfield. Notre Dame’s linebackers have shown a weakness in underneath coverage and, outside of Jaylon Smith, do not have the speed to stay with Hunt or Dawkins.
Honestly, I respect the Purdue program and they had a shot at winning last year’s game, but the 2013 team simply lacks the across the board talent they will need to compete against Notre Dame. If the Irish defense allows Purdue to score several times, even if Notre Dame wins, serious concerns will linger about this team’s ability to compete on the national level in 2013.