Purdue Boilermakers and former Newton running back Akeem Hunt (1) runs the ball against the Michigan State Spartans during the 1st half at Spartan Stadium. (USA TODAY Sports: Mike Carter)
This might be Darrell Hazell’s first time facing Ohio State as a head coach, but he knows all about the Buckeyes and what makes them tick.
Hazell spent seven years on the Ohio State staff as an assistant before leaving to take the Kent State job prior to the 2011 season. He knows some of the Buckeyes upperclassmen from his time there, but now those guys will see him coaching a different Big Ten squad when they arrive at Purdue on Saturday.
“There are a lot of players there that we recruited when I was there, so you know a little bit about the guys,” Hazell said. “Now they have gotten a lot better, just watching them on film, from the time that I left.”
While seeing some of his former players might be enjoyable in the abstract, that’s not a great recipe for success for a young and struggling team that got shut out 14-0 by Michigan State just before the bye week. Of all the areas needing correction, Hazell pointed out one particular area that needed improvement most of all.
“I think the biggest thing is that we crossed the 50 five times against Michigan State and came up with no points,” Hazell said. “We have to be a better football team in terms of taking care of the ball and not having negative plays once we crossed the 50-yard line and a lot of those other things will take care of themselves. But the first thing is you have to take care of the football, period. You do that and you give yourself a better chance to be successful.”
The Boilermakers enter Saturday as better than four-touchdown underdogs against Hazell’s former team. That’s a tough road to cross, but the Purdue coach has his path to success mapped out.
“I would love to make some early plays. That’s the key,” Hazell said. “Come out and not do anything that shoots ourselves in the foot and give ourselves a chance to battle back and forth. You know they are going to make their plays, and we’ve got to make our plays and keep battling.”
Once the game kicks off, nobody will be thinking about ties to another school. “This is Purdue versus Ohio State, and it’s going to be a fun game on Saturday afternoon,” Hazell said.
NCAAF Team Report - Purdue - NOTES, QUOTES
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
—RB Akeem Hunt is the go-to player in key spots for the Purdue offense. He has 27 of the team’s 110 first downs, 17 rushing and 10 receiving.
NCAAF Team Report - Purdue - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Scouting the running game: It looks like Brandon Cottom will be able to play this weekend, a big boost to the Boilermakers chances. Purdue still relies on Akeem Hunt out of the backfield, but Cottom’s a more physical runner who can punish defenders trying to tackle him and can prevent the team from relying on Hunt so much that he wears down.
Scouting the passing game: Ohio State doesn’t blitz a ton, but that doesn’t mean Danny Etling will have an easy time back in the pocket. The Buckeyes lead the Big Ten in sacks and can generate pressure with a three-man rush, which means Etling will have to recognize which linebackers are dropping back into coverage to avoid throwing into double coverage. The Boilermakers are hoping the return of B.J. Knauf revitalizes a receiver group that hasn’t shown the big-play ability the staff was hoping for.
Scouting the run defense: Ohio State averages nearly 300 yards per game on the ground, so it’s safe to say Purdue can expect to see a lot of running plays this week. The Buckeyes also average more than six yards a carry. If it reaches those numbers again Saturday, Purdue’s in big trouble.
Scouting the pass defense: The Buckeyes do most of their damage on the ground, but because of that the passing game has been effective taking advantage of single coverage. With the linebackers in the Purdue 3-4 likely focused on stopping the run first, there’s additional pressure on the Boilermakers defensive backs to stay disciplined, not let their receiver behind them, and keep their coverage tight if the pass rush fails to generate pressure.
Scouting the special teams: One strength for Purdue is the punting game. Cody Webster and the punt return defense unit has left the Boilermakers second in the NCAA in net punting. Opponents have just 48 return yards on 41 Boilermaker punts this season, and the team averages 42.7 net yards per punt.