It is year four of the Darrell Hazell era for the Purdue Boilermakers, a.k.a put up or shut up time for the head coach.
With three games and a bye week already in the books there is plenty to know and still plenty to learn about the Boilermakers. However, it is time for the team to enter the real season — conference play.
Is this team ready after three games, or was Darrell Hazell’s offseason bluster about turning this program around just that — bluster? Let’s take a shot at answering that given the knowledge we gained in non-conference play.
The Good News:
Considering the state of the Purdue program heading in to the 2016 season, winning games — any games — is super impressive. Purdue enters Big Ten play at 2-1 with its only loss coming to a very good Cincinnati program in Week 2.
Given the depths of the Boilermakers program in past years, entering Big Ten play with a positive record is certainly good news. However, it isn’t the record that is the real good news — that belongs to finally having a settled offense to work with.
Markell Jones was expected to be a good player, but he has exceeded that expectation so far. He is averaging 105.3 yards per game, a mark that is third in the Big Ten heading in to Purdue’s first B1G game. Additionally, Jones’ 316 total rushing yards are fifth in the Big Ten despite having played in just three games.
Jones isn’t the only offensive performer of note, as quarterback David Blough has been one of the most prolific passers in the Big Ten. His 315.3 passing yards per game is second in the conference, and his 946 yards is also inside the top 5 as well.
Unfortunately, he also has been unable to turn all of those yards in to production of points. Blough has just five touchdowns to seven interceptions on the year. At some point those numbers need to be reversed if success if to be had in the Big Ten.
The Bad News:
It wasn’t exactly a good thing to see this team come out of a bye week and struggle with an opponent like Nevada. Sure, the comeback was a good thing, but this team shouldn’t have been in a hole like that with a mid-level Mountain West team to begin with.
Big Ten teams aren’t Nevada and spotting them a 14-3 scoreline is a recipe for disaster against any other conference team. Let’s see if the Boilers learn from this type of game and grow in to a team capable of not doing that every again.
Hazell spoke about this team making a major leap, but we really haven’t seen that happen on the field just yet. If the Boilermakers are really turning the corner to competitiveness in the Big Ten, then it should’ve shown already.
We haven’t seen that corner turned like Hazell spoke so confidently about at Big Ten Media Days.
Player Who Has Stepped Up: Markell Jones, RB
Everyone expected Jones to be good, but this good in non-conference play?
The question at hand for Jones is if he can replicate the big numbers he put up against Eastern Kentucky and Nevada against Big Ten defenses. The Cincinnati game wasn’t exactly a good sign there, as he put up just 47 yards on 13 carries against the best defense he saw in non-conference play.
Like much of the Boilermakers players, the jury is still very much out on Jones. Let’s see if he can be a catalyst for a big change for his team going forward.
Player Who Needs to Step Up: Tim Cason, CB
Arguably Purdue’s best defensive back, Da’Wan Hunte, has only played in one game this season. That has meant a big role for his backup Tim Cason. However, Cason hasn’t exactly been on fire.
Sure, he has 11 tackles and that isn’t terrible for a guy on the outside of the defense. But, there is a major problem for a pass defense that is 10th in the Big Ten and that is an inability to make plays on the ball.
As a team, Purdue has just three interceptions and seven passes defensed. Cason has one of those passes defensed, but he needs to step it up with Big Ten play on the way and Hunte still an unsure player for this week and others to come.