As fall camp moves in to preparation for Week 1, excitement is palpable across the college football landscape. But, at Purdue it has been hard for anyone looking from the outside in to be excited about anything during the Darrell Hazell era.
But, on the inside there is no one outwardly more confident about a team that has struggled for four long years than Hazell himself. He was arguably the most confident coach about his team at Big Ten Media Days, so much so that plenty of people took notice of his genuine belief in his team.
With Eastern Kentucky coming to West Lafayette, Ind. this weekend, Hazell hasn’t softened his belief in his Boilermakers team. He also happens to be in love with his team on all fronts heading in to the opening week of the 2016 season.
“Everywhere,” said Hazell when asked about where he feels good about this Purdue team. “There’s not a situation on my team that I’m concerned about. No positions, no attitudes, no work ethics, where their minds are.”
For a coach with a team coming off a 2-10 season and holding a record of 6-30 in his previous three seasons that is some impressive if not ludicrous confidence to have in his team.
So, what gives him so much confidence in a team that has not yet shown signs of real progress since his arrival for the 2013 season?
One area that has Hazell excited for an improbable turnaround is his defensive line. It’s a group many looked at as having talent, but failing to realize that talent to its fullest so far. Hazell believes that group has finally put it together after surprising even the coaching staff in fall camp.
“I think the group to me that’s most impressive, not the deepest, but most impressive, was the defensive line. I think those guys are really good. To me that group has kind of elevated. We knew we had Jake (Replogle), thought we had Evan (Panfil). Austin (Larkin) has come a long ways.”
If Hazell is right and the defensive line has turned a corner, the Boilermakers could be on their way to solving its biggest issue on that side of the ball — being stout enough to stop the opponents run game.
Since Hazell’s arrival in 2013 the Boilermakers defense has given up an average of 214.1 yards per game on the ground. Purdue’s defense has also allowed opponents to average over 200 yards per game in two of the first three seasons under Hazell. Perhaps most disturbing, that includes this past season when that group bottomed out as the worst rush defense in the Big Ten (214.9).
Fixing that and getting in to the top half of the Big Ten this upcoming season certainly would go a long way towards proving Hazell’s confidence right. It also would go a long way towards helping this team truly turn around what has been a brutal start to the Hazell era.
If not, then Hazell’s overconfidence will forever be the butt of jokes and his ultimate downfall as Purdue’s head coach.