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November 19, 2013

Hazell calls season 'work in progress,' notes

Purdue has lost its last four home games, dating back to late September, by a combined 193-45.

But in the final home game of the season on Saturday, the Boilermakers will welcome Illinois. Neither program has won a Big Ten game in its previous six tries this season.

So will Purdue (1-9, 0-6) change its non-competitive ways against the Illini?

"Absolutely," first-year coach Darrell Hazell said during his Tuesday press conference.

Purdue hopes to get a spark from its seniors on Senior Day, though of the 21 who are expected to participate in the festivities at 11:46 a.m., only about half play regular snaps on Saturdays.

Still they likely hope to see a surge in fans for the finale. As of last Friday, only about 35,000 tickets had been sold for the game.

Part of that is a product of the team's struggles in Hazell's first season - an offense that is averaging a league-worst 8.7 points per game in Big Ten play and a defense that's allowing more points than all but two teams in the league (Illinois, Indiana are worse).

Hazell spent much of the offseason trying to generate interest in the program, speaking at a bevy of events, even got out to frat houses to meet students. But whatever excitement that developed has waned with the eight-game losing streak.

What does Hazell and Purdue have to do to regain that level of excitement?

"We have to come out and play extremely well on Saturday and show the future of the program," he said. "I think that's very important at this point in time. There's a great crop of young guys out there to be able to track and follow their career in the next three, four, five years. They're fun. Some of those guys are fun to watch. It's going to fun."

The "future" Hazell speaks of, he says, is developing the program to be among the tops in the conference. Though the results haven't come this season, he said he's staying the course and that's the message he's passing on to his staff.

"You've got to have some foresight a little bit to see all the things you want to have happen," he said. "I know it's going to happen. It's just when it's going to happen. Getting everybody to do exactly what you need them to do, running to the ball, hitting people on defense, offensively executing to the highest level and then play great special teams, which we're playing right now. I think we're playing outstanding special teams. It's going to be a great program. I tell my staff that all the time, just keep working the process, don't panic, don't flinch and sometimes it's frustrating for you, but you've got to keep working the process."

So how would Hazell describe this first season?

"Work in progress," he said succinctly.

Hazell has been around Purdue's seniors for less than a year, but he classified the group as "fighters."

The class earned two bowl bids during its run, winning the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in 2011 and losing in the Heart of Dallas Bowl last season. Overall, though, the players will leave with losing records during their careers. The four-year seniors had a combined 17-21 record entering the season.

"You put those guys in that situation and to have them go through the season like we've gone through has got to be hard for them," Hazell said. "They're trying extremely hard, we're just not getting the results that are desired. To their credit, they come to work every single day and put it in for the Boilermakers.

"They've gone through a lot of hard situations and they've managed to stay together as a group, these 21 guys, believing in each other and they fought hard for the new staff coming in."

Evaluating Etling
Hazell considered Saturday's offensive effort against Penn State the best execution the team has had this season.

The offense scored 14 points, had 264 yards and lost three turnovers. Freshman quarterback Danny Etling, though, said he felt more comfortable, and his completion percentage was aided by more screens passes or quick throws to the flats.

That sounds like it will be the plan against the Illini, too, Hazell mentioning the importance of getting easy completions for the freshman, who completed 21-of-33 passes for 223 yards and a touchdown.

"He keeps getting better," Hazell said of Etling. "That's the thing that you see about him. You're disappointed about the one throw he had early, the pick. It was 14-7, he's got to see the underneath flat defender. We talk about that all the time, making sure you can find a guy who can take the route away. He missed it. But other than that, I thought he played exceptionally well getting the ball out of his hands, his timing was pretty good, his accuracy was pretty good. He's got to do a better job of taking care of the ball in the pocket when he feels pressure, but you can see the progression of that guy getting better from week to week to week.

"He was much better on the headset on Saturday, as well, with the communication back and forth, saying this is what I saw. Before he was very quiet, but he was very talkative on Saturday."

A challenge
A week after facing a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten offense in Penn State and allowing 45 points, the Boilermakers face a potentially more potent offense this week in the Illini.

Illinois ranks No. 2 in league games in passing offense, averaging 276.3 yards per game behind quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase. But Hazell also likes running back Josh Ferguson, the team's leading rusher. Purdue has allowed a 100-yard rusher in every Big Ten game this season - Ferguson has done that only once, against Nebraska.

"Offensively, they do so many different things," Hazell said. "They'll spread you out one set, the next they'll come back with two tight ends. I think their back is extremely explosive. Their quarterback does a nice job finding that guy on check downs. (Ferguson) makes a lot of guys miss. The quarterback is doing a nice job of finding those guys.

"It'll be a very good test for our defense again."

Copyright, Boilers, Inc. 2013. All Rights Reserved. Reproducing or using editorial or graphical content, in whole or in part, without permission, is strictly prohibited. E-mail GoldandBlack.com/Boilers, Inc.

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