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June 15, 2013

Beat writer knows best: Purdue

Wisconsin's coaching change grabbed more headlines, but the Purdue Boilermakers will also head into the 2013 with a new hand on the wheel. The Boilermakers fired Danny Hope after his 2012 squad failed to live up to expectations, and they hired Kent State head coach Darrell Hazell after his Golden Flashes won 11 games in just his second year at the helm.

The Boilermakers are Wisconsin's first Big Ten opponent this year, so they'll be the first ones to play Hazell's Purdue squad. The Badgers won't have much film to study in the lead up to the game, but BadgerBlitz.com sought out another expert on Purdue football to fill us in on the comings and goings at Ross-Ade Stadium. Brian Neubert covers the Boilermakers for GoldandBlack.com, and was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about Purdue.

How is Darrell Hazell doing so far at Purdue? What does he need to bring to the table for the Boilermakers?

Brian Neubert: He's a big "substance" guy. What he's done at Purdue so far is exactly what Purdue needed- kind of a sturdy hand, kind of a disciplinarian. Somebody who's going to work to rebuild Purdue's foundation in terms of consistency and just the way that they do things off the field. Inconsistency is what got Danny Hope fired.

They showed over and over again that they could play with anybody on certain days. They should have beaten Ohio State and Notre Dame- both on the road last year, and they didn't. They were absolutely good enough to win those games, but then they go up to Minnesota and get their doors blown off. Their first two Big Ten games they played Michigan and Wisconsin, and they never had a chance. Danny Hope won at Michigan a couple years ago, and then they lose at home to Northern Illinois. They had some guys get in to trouble off the field, but what [Hazell] has had to do since he got to Purdue is just try to establish that discipline, a consistent approach. That's probably the biggest thing right now.

Their schedule is such that they kind of have their hands full, in terms of games they can win this year, but at the same time you don't really want to put a ceiling on it because everything is so new and you don't know what they can do. They need to establish some kind of identity, get back to being consistent. [Hazell] obviously learned from Jim Tressel. He's going to do things pretty similarly, in terms of how he runs the program. It'll be interesting to see in the short term how the players respond to that, because the culture before wasn't very substantive.

Have the players responded to him so far?

BN: It seems like guys all said 'This is exactly what we needed.' They were very demanding, and he's held them to a very high standard. I know some players told some of our staff along the lines of 'If we'd had this sort of approach before, maybe we would have won some of those games we lost.' This seems like a team that wants discipline, higher expectations. I don't want to trash the old staff but that's what they're saying. No one before wanted to lose, but one way or another that's what's being reversed right now. You haven't seen any mass attrition at this point, we'll see what happens over the summer.

What kind of offense does Hazell run, and are the Boilermakers equipped to run the scheme that he prefers?

BN: That certainly remains to be seen. He wants to be able to run the ball, be very strong and aggressive up front- kind of the way Ohio State used to play. But they also have a former NFL offensive coordinator in John Shoop, who's talked a lot about wanting to run a West Coast offense. I think they're going to rely on a lot of short passing, and they're really going to incorporate the tight ends. They're still going to run some spread, but people know Purdue as kind of a 'pass to set up the run' team, but I think in his ideal world I think maybe now they would run to set up the pass.

But any new coaching staff that comes in has to acclimate to the personnel they have, and with the players they have on offense it remains to be seen what they'll be able to do. Danny Hope always emphasized speed, and recruited a lot of Florida guys who might not be as football-savvy as they are fast. Whether or not they can install that running game right away I have no idea. But from a philosophical standpoint I think they want to work towards it.

Switching over to defense, is Hazell going to change much on that side of the ball? Will they use a traditional 4-3 or switch to something that's a little more multiple?

BN: We haven't really seen what they'll do quite yet, but I think they're going to stay with a 4-3. I think they want to be more of a pressuring defense than they were before. I know the linebackers coach has talked more about giving guys the freedom to make plays when they're there to be made. I think they're going to be more aggressive. I know every coach wants to be more aggressive, but that seems like their general philosophy.

How does Purdue's schedule shape up this year? Is it going to be tougher than last year?

BN: Yeah, it is. Obviously the Big Ten is what the Big Ten is, but when you look at their non-conference schedule, they start the season at Cincinnati. That's a pretty tough road game right off the bat. And their MAC opponent this year is Northern Illinois, and they bring their quarterback back from a team that went to a BCS bowl this year. And then obviously they have their game with Notre Dame. And then you get in to the Big Ten, you play Nebraska for the first time and travel to Michigan State. Obviously the schedule looks very difficult.

Is it too early to have expectations about Hazell's first year at Purdue? Will you have to wait through fall camp to get a good feel about whether the Boilermakers will reach a bowl game? What's the most likely scenario for Purdue this year?

BN: I think you probably have to wait and see the product on the field, and then calibrate your expectations from there. As I said before, when you're not sure what you're covering you tend to look at who they're playing against. Purdue has some pieces, it's not like they're short on talent. They don't have the best talent, I think they're probably at the lower end of the Big Ten in terms of physical ability. But they do have some experience at important positions, especially on the defensive line.

I want to give you a more substantive answer than this, but you have to see what they're going to look like with the new systems on both sides of the ball. I would say it's kind of a clean slate right now- we'll learn more when they play.

Thanks again to Brian for filling us in on the Boilermakers. You can read more of his work at GoldandBlack.com, and you can follow their site on Twitter @GoldandBlackcom.

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