December 16, 2013

Coordinators Corner

Purdue wasn't good in 2013.

It won only a game and was competitive in few others.

Last week, we talked to coordinators John Shoop and Greg Hudson - the two were out recruiting for the 2014 class and beyond - about the problems of the 1-11 season and what they see going forward.

The following are excerpts from the interviews, with full transcripts in the latest edition of Gold and Black Illustrated's glossy Jan./Feb. magazine, which mails Friday.

Offensive coordinator John Shoop

Gold and Black: As you've had a while to digest the season, as you look back what do you diagnose as what some of the struggles were?
"Well, I haven't gone back and look at every cut-up yet as I've been traveling in planes (while recruiting). I've been looking at as many as I could but I couldn't look at every one. I don't look at it as much as the problem I look at it as these guys did a lot of work this season that's invisible to people on the outside. These guys learned how to work, they learned how to prepare. And you came to our practices like you did on Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday and the way that these guys work is how you're supposed to.

"And I think our best game was our last game offensively and I got a feeling as well as our players got a feeling that things were starting to tick. And the thing that I'm very pleased about is we never dumbed it down, we never slowed down. We just kept pushing our guys. At some point you guys are going to push through this wall and things are going to start clicking. But we are not going to slow down this pace just because there are seven or eight freshmen out on the field. We're not going to slow down the pace, you guys are going to meet that pace. And I think the last couple games of the year those guys met that. I think that it's going to be a morale booster going into this offseason.

"This isn't the first time I've been around building a team. In 1995 the Carolina Panthers, it was their first year in existence, in our second year we go 12-4 and are division champions. And the year before I took over for the Chicago Bears as the offensive coordinator, they were 4-12. Then the year I took over my first full year, we go 13-3. The university of North Carolina, we were playing with a redshirt freshman quarterback, and we were only 4-8 (in 2007). I think three of those four wins were against FCS schools (one was vs. James Madison, along with Miami, Maryland and Duke), but then we went on a run of four or five straight bowl games after that. These guys did a lot of work this year that is invisible to people on the outside but it's a real strong foundation moving forward and this offseason has just got to be as aggressive and as intense as any in the country.

"And with guys like Danny Etling and Danny Anthrop and (Robert) Kugler leading it this offseason, I'm pretty sure it's going to be. Those are the kind of guys you want hanging around. I'm encouraged I really am."

Gold and Black: Why do you think there were so many struggles? Was it a problem of youth or the coaching staff not getting through to some guys, or both?
"It's never any one thing. But I will say as the year went our message sharpened and became clearer. I think the players started to receive it a little bit better as well. We've got to have a lot more production. Passing, running it, things like that. But more specifically, we've got to have more production running the football. And it's not any one thing. It could be anything from a play call, to a misread, to coming off the line of scrimmage, to either a lineman or tight end or wide receiver getting their course (incorrect). I think by the end of the year we got better and better at those. But we've got to have more production in the run game and we've really got to challenge our guys to do so."

Gold and Black: What style do you want the offense to be? You came in wanting it to be run first, but obviously that did not work. What style do you want it to be going forward?
"I think we have to sit back as a staff and study all our cut-ups. I will say this, I think everybody on our team has a great deal of confidence in our quarterback's ability to pass the football. He's too good of a quarterback to just be throwing 10 or 12 times. He is certainly above the fold, in terms of ability. He'll be able to find a whole bunch of completions in the game so we've got to take that into account.

"I've never said I wanted to be a run-first, pass-first I've always said I wanted to be a balanced team. And I think balanced to me is having the ability to do either one. If you throw it 65-percent of the time and run 35-percent and still can do either whenever you need to, that's still some balance. The ability to do whatever is necessary in order to win. The ability to run the ball when you want to run the ball and not just when they give you the numbers. So that hasn't changed: we still want to be balanced but we're going to go into this offseason with really our two quarterbacks, because Austin Appleby had really a tremendous season as well. He's really a different quarterback right now than he was in August.

"With those two quarterbacks I really think we have guys that have the ability to throw an awful lot of completions so we'll sure take that into account.

Gold and Black: You often used different personnel groupings on a weekly basis, even switching up starters at skill positions, was that a sign of trying to find guys who work or still trying to evaluate guys? Why the changes?
"A little bit of both. And sometimes when you're going through a tough season you try to stimulate people around by getting them in the game plan or involving them in the game plan. But we were trying to find some things that would work. Going to a bit of a bigger back that could bring his own blocker a little bit is (Brandon) Cottom, who showed us he could at some points. But he's got to do a great job this offseason of taking care of his body. Being healthy and being durable is a 365-day job. When we put him in he got dinged up a little bit in that Michigan State game so we had to rotate back in. Endurance and durability are the most underrated qualities in football players. Some of that too had to do with endurance and durability, shuffling guys in and out and trying to find a spark."

Gold and Black: How quickly do you feel like you guys can be an offense that is more competitive? Quick fix going into next season?
"I feel like it is. I sure feel like with a guy like Danny Etling and all the other freshmen that played along with him this year we feel like putting that out the first game of the season."

Gold and Black: Do you try and put being 1-11 behind you as quickly as you can or try to reflect on it?
"I don't feel like I put it behind me. I told our players 'Dwell on the past, you'll lose an eye and forget the past you'll lose them both.' We've got to learn from all of this. There were a lot of freshmen out there playing a lot of football. And if we don't remember the lessons that we learned this year it will be all for not. And that isn't going to be the case. We're not going to dwell on some of those things, but we aren't going to forget them either."

Defensive coordinator Greg Hudson

Gold and Black: You have had some time to do reflect, while on the road recruiting, so what happened in 2013?
"I think we found out exactly where we were as a program at Purdue. I think you have guys that you inherit and that you are going to put out on the field and play with. We try to keep everybody within the program with us and involved and tried to put them in as many positions as we to succeed, but we have to find better ways to do it. We have to get better at all positions and we have to improve first and foremost from a physical standpoint. We have to get Big Ten big and Big Ten strong.

"Right now, the ramrods that are showing that is probably Michigan State. They're probably the prototype team right now and that is where we have to look from our eyes the direction we're going and get to that level. We have to do it with the players we have right now and the ones we are chasing around the country, but it has to be the ones that love playing football, and love playing this style of football. Make no mistake about it: Just like you build facilities, we have to build players. This is not the NFL; it is not a finished product of guys you just keep working out. We have to develop. We have to get bigger, stronger, faster and we have to do it fast."

Gold and Black: You have said that a couple of times about guys who love this style of football. Did you feel like you didn't have enough of those guys or just not putting them in the right position to be successful?
"No, we need more guys. We have 85 on scholarship and all 85 have to give everything they got to play crazy on Saturday and then turn around and be ready to go on Tuesday. You rest in the off-season. It is not like the NFL, where you miss two practices. It is a developmental sport. One of the things we kept saying is 'wire-to-wire,' you have to be there 'wire-to-wire' at practice and play everyday. You look at the teams ranked at the top and the best teams in the country and I guarantee you their participation level is pretty high.

"… We don't let the age discriminate, we need guys that can produce, whether they're eighteen or twenty-two. We have to get better; we have to really get better. I have to get better. I have to coach them better. First and foremost, before anything else, I have to coach them better. If that just changes, then we will be a better defense."

Gold and Black: Do you feel like going forward that you will be primarily a three-man front?
"I think we will be a three-man front, but see a lot of these teams playing a three-man front, but they have four guys down at least half the time. All you're changing really is whether the guy has his hands in the grass or whether it is up. We are going to be three- and four-down and we are going to keep recruiting the best players we can get and keep working in this system to get them better. It all depends whether you are playing a spread team or power team. You have to be bale to go back and forth. You look at the top defenses around the country and look at the rush defense and scoring defense and it is probably a mix bag of whether they are a 3-4 or 4-3."

Gold and Black: What do you think is your biggest need from a personnel point of view going forward?
"Probably our biggest need is really at linebacker, because a linebacker can affect both parts of the game: the run and the pass. They can help stop the spread offense more than anything. If they are getting blocked, can't get off blocks, they're not fast enough or strong enough to make plays then you have a void in the middle. That is like taking your shortstop out of the line up. You can have a great outfielder and a great catcher, but if Derek Jeter is on the sidelines then you're going to have a hole.

"We have got to get better at linebacker and play better at linebacker and the next thing is that our big guys have to play better up front and be more effective. When we do that, that is going to take care a lot of things that you say is the biggest worry in the secondary.

"If the big guys in the front seven are doing their job at a high level that changes everything in the back end. Affecting the quarterback, stopping the run without having to use a DB all the time. This is the Big Ten and we need bigger guys to play big and make more big plays."

Gold and Black: How quickly do you think you can get a defense that you feel pretty comfortably with?
"Shoot, I don't know. I guess as a coach, you are never comfortable. If you get comfortable, you get beat. We better do it a lot faster than we did this year, because what we did was not acceptable for Purdue football in my opinion."

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