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Guest Spot; Travis Miller From Hammer and Rails

The Purdue Boilermakers are, like the Bearcats, a team full of questions. Questions more than anything else. The variables that decide most games of football are still unknown, will be for a while longer into this season, regardless of the outcome. To sort through all of the unknowns we sought the input of Travis Miller, proprietor in chief at SB Nation's Purdue site Hammer and Rails.


Me: Darrell Hazell is the new sheriff in town, and the first head coach outside of the Tiller tree in nearly two decades. Which leads to a couple of questions 1) just how sclerotic was the end of the Danny Hope era? 2) Is there any sort of acknowledgment that this could be a rebuilding project for Hazell, or is the pressure to win, maybe not big, but to win from the start?

Travis Miller: Danny Hope started well, said the right things, and even fooled many by going 5-7 in his first year, but we should have known then things would end poorly when we realistically were a handful of plays from being 10-2. The flags that came up that season (poor clock management, no adjustments, lack of discipline) were never corrected over the next few years. Hope’s first Purdue team beat Ohio State (who won the Rose Bowl) and came within a missed 2-point conversion of taking Oregon to overtime in Eugene. They could clearly compete with the elite, but were flawed in ways that were never fixed.

Last year, we finally had enough. Purdue had everything set to make the Big Ten title game with a third of our division ineligible, the toughest game (Wisconsin) at home, and experience at every position. While we competed with Notre Dame and Ohio State on their home fields and probably should have won, it was clearly coaching decisions that lost those games.

In the rest of Purdue’s losses Purdue looked laughably unprepared, and that was all on Hope. He made an over matched team surprisingly competitive in 2009, had the excuse of a rash of injuries in 2010, and starting in 2011 we started to see that he couldn’t get it done when it mattered. We were surprised when our AD pulled the trigger, but most Purdue fans are already in love with Hazell.

With Hazell we know there is a tough schedule (one of the toughest in the nation), but we want to at least be competitive and see improvement even if Purdue loses. Last year it wasn’t so much that Purdue lost to Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, and Penn State in a long stretch, it was that Purdue rolled over and died with multiple three-and-outs and that it looked completely unprepared for things as simple as "Holy crap, Wisconsin likes to run the ball?"

If we see simple thing recognized like that Hazell is already far ahead of Hope.

Me: Senior Rob Henry has been named the Boilermakers starting QB. He had great promise early in his career, but went down to a knee injury with the starting job in hand a week before the 2011 season. He missed that year, and spent 2012 buried behind Caleb TerBush and Robert "No ACL Required" Marve. Henry has been named the starter for the game, and will obviously play the lion’s share of snaps. But is Henry The guy this season, or is he a placeholder for one of the young guys, be it Danny Etling or Austin Appleby?

T-Mill: I like it. There is some good mojo for him. In 1997 a guy named Billy Dicken was a senior and little starting experience. In Joe Tiller’s first year he was an all-Big Ten performer and took Purdue to 9-3 after a 3-8 season. It was also Purdue’s first winning season in 12 years. Joey Elliott was a senior with no starts in Hope’s first year in 2009 and had an excellent season even though Purdue finished 5-7. It was far from his fault and most Purdue fans talk highly of him today.

I think Henry gives Purdue its best chance to win right now. He has experience and has been a leader for this team before. He was a team captain the year he injured his knee and definitely has the respect of his teammates. I like Austin Appleby and Danny Etling, but I recognize experience is huge and Henry brings that. He is a dual-threat player and his passing has improved. That, and he is the first quarterback to wear No. 15 since Drew Brees, so there is a certain psychological factor there. He has earned his shot and I am behind him 100%.

Me: My read on the defense from a year ago is that they were an aggressive group that took a lot of chances, and when they worked they were very disruptive. When the gambles misfired, offenses piled up yards and points at an alarming rate. Is Greg Hudson going to instill a similar boom and bust style, or is he trying to remove some of the volatility from the equation.

T-Mill: I hope he installs a consistent defense. Purdue has been very deficient at linebacker for about 10 years now and the defense as a whole looked completely unprepared at times. At other times they wore down against Big Ten offenses because of our offensive coordinator, Gary Nord, had probably the worst game plans possible. That led to multiple 3-and-outs in games where the defense got some stops, but had to spend most of the first half on the field.

Since Hudson was a solid linebackers coach at FSU and Marcus Freeman is an up and coming assistant who now handles out linebackers it is hoped we can finally settle his issue. I am not confident, but at least something new will be tried.

Me: Every team has that one position that they simply can not find a way to recruit, either bad luck, missed evaluations or academics result in class after class where the position group is a need in recruiting year after year. For Purdue linebacker seems to be that position. What is the outlook for the linebackers in 2013?

T-Mill: It should be interesting. Joe Gilliam made strides in the middle but is a little questionable for the opener after a finger injury in camp. Andy James Garcia, a red-shirt freshman, beat out Will Lucas, a three year starter, at one of the outside spots. Lucas has now shifted over to the middle in place of Gilliam and seems to be doing well. Converted quarterback Sean Robinson has some promise as the third linebacker.

Honestly though, it is hoped that two four-star recruits in Drue Tranquill and Gelen Robinson (brother of Michigan basketball player Glenn and son of former Purdue great Glenn) can come in and have an immediate impact. We’re very high on them and honestly, they might be our best linebackers right now. Unfortunately, they are currently seniors in high school.

Me: Give me one player from the offense and defense to keep an eye on Saturday?

T-Mill: On offense Akeem Hunt has looked very good since last year. He is a smaller, speedy back that is very similar to Dri Archer, who excelled under Hazell last season. Last season he scored via a big run, a big pass, and a 100 yard kickoff return at Ohio State. If he gets the ball in space he is very dangerous, especially on a faster turf.

On defense Ricardo Allen is one of the best corners in the Big Ten, if not the country. He already has four career touchdowns off of interception returns and is an incredibly hard worker. With one more pick six he will tie the all-time FBS record.

Me: Care to make a prediction for the game?

T-Mill: I think we’re going to have a close, exciting game. I’d like to pick Purdue, but Cincinnati is more experienced and has a pretty good defense, while Purdue still has a lot of questions on offense. I think that gives you guys an edge.


Thanks again to Travis for the Q&A and go check out Hammer and Rails