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September 17, 2013
Purdue knows its identity on offense.
But executing it has eluded the Boilermakers through the first three games of the season.
"(We haven't) gotten there yet, but you'd like it to be a physical, downhill offense that creates a lot of deception," Coach Darrell Hazell said at his weekly Tuesday teleconference. "We talked about sleight of hand all the time in terms of making the run look like the pass, and the pass look like the run, and we're getting closer, but we're not there.
"We need to be a much more still physical football team running the ball when we have to."
That's been the Boilermakers biggest issue - and there've been others - through the first three games, as they've accumulated only 237 yards, the worst rushing offense in the Big Ten. Grant, Notre Dame's front seven is likely one of the better units in the country, but against the Fighting Irish, Purdue had only 38 yards on the ground, on 21 carries, just 1.8 yards per rush.
Much of the responsibility for improvement lies on the offensive line - others factors, such as the passing game's ability to loosen up the defense are key, too - which needs to get a better push in the rush game. Offensive guard Jordan Roos says the Boilermakers need to execute assignments better up front.
"If you're not in you're stance thinking 'Crap, how do I block this front,' then you can actually fire out and execute it," he said. "So if you can eliminate the thinking 'What do I do here? What do I do here?' I think you can perform better.
"We've just got to keep getting better at knowing the fronts and blocking whatever is in front of us."
Purdue's lackluster rushing game is part of a lackluster offense in general; the Boilermakers have averaged only 268 yards and 17 points per game, ranking 116th (out of 128) and 109th nationally. It leaves plenty of room for improvement.
"I think all of us have the attitude to be physical and run block people," he said. "It's just about getting better at our assignments."
Purdue and Wisconsin open Big Ten play Saturday, a week before the rest of the league.
But it matters little to Hazell.
"We're obviously excited about this challenge on Saturday," the first-year Purdue coach said. "We'll go out and play like crazy and give ourselves every chance we can to win this football game. It's a big, big game for this program."
Originally, the Boilers and Badgers were slated to play Oct. 26; however, both had an open Saturday on Sept. 21 - and another on Oct. 5 - so to avoid having two byes in a three-week period, the programs decided to alter their schedules.
For Purdue, it means playing a Big Ten game before its final non-conference game against Northern Illinois.
"I don't see any disadvantages," Hazell said. "You prepare every single week the same way, at least we do, and you're going to have to play them at some point in time. Obviously going up to this place is a hard place to play, but it's a fun place to play."
Paul Griggs has made only half of his six field goals through the first three games of the season.
And against Notre Dame, he missed a 27-yarder, pulling it wide left when Purdue was lined up on the right hash marks. But the sophomore's not in danger of losing his job, however, even with Sam McCartney also an experienced option.
"I'm not thinking that way," Hazell said of a potential change, "but (Griggs) definitely needs to be more consistent and go through his mechanics and not over swing, because we're going to get into the Big Ten schedule and field goals are critical. We can't afford to miss those chip-shot field goals."
Purdue special teams have largely been a positive through the first fourth of the season.
But field goals are a concern, as is kickoff coverage.
The Boilers are last in net kickoff average, only 36.9 yards per attempt, leaving opponents to average the 28-yard line as their starting position. And Thomas Meadows has put only two of his 12 kickoffs in the end zone for a touchback.
"I wish it were that simple," Hazell said of Meadows, "but that's where the issue starts. The issue starts with the average hang time right now is about 3.5 (seconds) on the kick, and the ball is only getting to the 10-yard line.
"You'd like for your coverage team, by the time (the opponent) catches the ball, to be at the 25. Right now, our coverage team is at the 35. So it's not necessarily the coverage team. It's the kick hang time, it's the kick distance that's putting stress on the coverage guys."
And the coverage hasn't been spotless. Saturday, the Boilermakers missed a critical tackle inside the 20, giving the Fight Irish better-than-average starting position.
"That tackle we missed, the ball came out to the 37-yard line, so we can't miss tackles," Hazell said.
The Boilermakers played four guards on its offensive line Saturday, and will likely continue to rotate its starters and backups there.
Devin Smith and Trevor Foy started at left guard and right guard, respectively, but were replaced for a couple series by Jason King and Jordan Roos. The two latter redshirt freshmen played about 14 snaps each on offense.
"We're going to play those four guards, definitely those four guards because we think they're all capable of playing," Hazell said. "... The issue with me right now is who is that next tackle? We might have to slide Devin outside to see if he can handle that situation in an emergency situation.
J.J. Prince played one snap on Saturday, sliding in at right tackle when starter Justin Kitchens helmet came off during play; Prince, a redshirt freshman, was beaten on the third-down play, leaving Purdue to settle for a field goal.
But in the bigger picture, it leaves the Boilermakers unsettled at the third tackle.
But that's not true in the middle. Roos says he and King are ready to go in.
"(We) were just waiting on the call," he said, "and when we went in, I thought we did pretty well. It was a great feeling.
"When we went in, it was 7-0, so they have confidence in us. We've just got to be ready to go when they call us."
Through the first three games of the season, Ryan Russell has a couple sacks, and has been part of a defensive front that has largely stymied the opponent's rushing offense.
But he thinks he could be giving more.
"Not up to the standard that I would like. My play wasn't terrible, but I don't believe I was enough of a game-changer like I wanted to be," the junior defensive end said. "So I definitely want to take that role. I want to be an impact player, and I want to change the game. I want offenses to have to worry about me."
Russell's never lacked potential, but capitalizing on that has been inconsistent. His 12 tackles, four for loss and two sacks is a good start; it puts him on pace for 48 tackles and eight sacks, both career-highs.
"I just need to put more trust in myself and my abilities," Russell said. "Sometimes throughout the game, things can happen that can shake you around and you're, 'OK, well, maybe Bruce (Gaston) is going to make this play, I'll make the next one.'
"But, really, every time you have to think that your team needs you to make this play, doing your assignment, of course. You don't want to go outside the scheme. But you definitely want to have the intensity that 'I'm making this play for my team.'"
Wisconsin's game at Arizona State ended with a Sun Devil laying on top of a ball, an official hovering over it, and the clock running out.
The Badgers lost 32-20.
The bizarre series started when quarterback Joel Stave took a quick knee, and placed the ball on the turf, in an effort to then spike it and set up a field goal.
Hazell says Purdue's staff talked about the ending.
"The (TV) announcers were saying that should be a penalty on Arizona State or delay of game for sitting on the ball," Hazell said. "But (the officially) literally thought (Stave) did not put his knee down. It happened so fast, the natural reaction was to jump on that football.
"Now you're in a situation where you tell your guys, 'Take your time getting off the ball, milk that clock.' I think the offensive team got caught up in the moment and didn't realize the clock was running at that point in time."
The play was somewhat reminiscent of the 1999 Purdue-Notre Dame game in Ross-Ade Stadium, when middle linebacker Willie Fells sat on the ball in the waning seconds, preventing Jarious Jackson from getting one final snap in the redzone. The Boilermakers won 28-23.
Following Purdue's season-opening loss at Cincinnati, Drew Brees texted Hazell, offering words of encouragement.
Hazell says Brees pointed out that Purdue lost soundly at Toledo in his freshman season, in 1997, only to rebound vs. Notre Dame.
"That's kind of saying, 'Keep working at it and we're all supporting you.' That's more or less what his text was," Hazell said.
He received a couple more texts last weekend, he said, following the loss to ND, but wouldn't divulge from who.
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