"Purdue football" is a phrase that for most Husker fans has probably come to mind only slightly more often than "mayonnaise candy' over the past few months, yet Nebraska plays Purdue in mid-October at West Lafayette next season.
A quick refresher on "Purdue football":
Purdue fired coach Danny Hope last season after a 56-35 win over hated rival Indiana, despite Hope guiding the Boilermakers to consecutive bowl games over the past two seasons. He spent four seasons at Purdue, compiling a 22-27 record.
The Boilermakers brought in Darrell Hazell, whose previous stop was Kent State where he lead the Golden Flashes to a 11-3 season, winning the school's first Mid-American Conference East Division championship and got the school to a bowl game, the GoDaddy.com bowl against Arkansas State, for the first time in 40 years.
Travis Miller from the SB Nation site Hammer & Rails gives CNers an update on what's been happening with Hazell and Purdue's spring game:
Any big changes to the spring game format under new coach Darrell Hazell? Any other dramatic changes that Hazell has made that fans have found appealing (or the other way around)?
The spring game was a little dull, especially with a 14-0 score, but we did see a few things that were not there under the previous regime. There were a few play-action passes and more downfield looks than the previous staff had. That in itself was refreshing. We came to call the offense under Gary nord the Nordfense, which consisted of little to no downfield passing, rollouts with limited mobility QBs, and if a running back showed any promise of dominating in a game he would go unused.
So, as you can see, trending away from that is a welcome relief.
Did the coaching change bring more interest for Purdue fans when it came to spring football, or did things stay the same?
I think there was a bigger crowd than last year, but rain last season moved it indoors to our practice facility and closed it to the public. This year there was a decent crowd and it likely would have been bigger had it been warmer. We've never had huge crowds, but there has been a definite renewed interest in Purdue football.
There were only three starters returning on offense. How will Hazell change things up on this side of the ball, and who were offensive standouts from the spring game?
Running back Akeem Hunt looked very good in open space. He is one of those players that was underused in the Nordfense. he averaged over 8 yards per touch last season, but rarely got he ball in favor of bubble screens.
True freshman Danny Etling also looked poised at quarterback. He enrolled early to go through spring practice and he very well could win the starting job from day one despite Rob Henry being a senior with starting experience and Austin Appleby having a redshirt year last year.
The offensive line needs to improve greatly, however. It may be because it was broken up from a starting unit (the teams were drafted by the players), but they did not protect the quarterback well. I can see Purdue running more than usual, especially with multiple solid freshmen coming in at running back to back up Hunt in the fall.
The defense had nine starters returning. Let's go with the same on that side of the ball - how will things change under new the regime and who stood out on the defense?
The defensive line looked very, very good and for the first time in nearly a decade Purdue's linebackers did not look completely and utterly lost. Purdue has always had a good defensive line and it looks like Bruce Gaston, Jalani Phillips, and Ryan Russell will be solid despite losing an All-American in Kawann Short. The linebacking department has been a major weakness going back to 2004, however. The coaching staff seems to have improved there, so far.
Ricardo Allen was out due to injury, but he can establish a national record in his final season. He has four career interceptions returned for touchdowns and with a fifth he will tie the FBS record. Normondo Harris also looked like a candidate to replace Josh Johnson.
Were there any early signs that made you believe Hazell will be more or less successful than Danny Hope?
he at least recognizes that everything is not perfect in every practice. There seems to be more accountability with this staff than in the past. Hope and Nord were famous last year for saying that Caleb TerBush was excellent in practice and would continue to start despite their inane QB rotation and Robert Marve completely outplaying him by every metric with a torn ACL! Because of things like that and the no-shows in every big games last year Hope completely lost the fanbase. Had he been retained I think there would have been a riot.
Hazell at least seems to be getting down to business. The players like him and judging by what we have seen coming out of West Lafayette there are real changes being made. It may take some time, but I think we're at least going in the right direction for the first time in a long time.