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November 26, 2013

Hazell preps for first Bucket game; notes

Darrell Hazell didn't need a crash course on the Purdue-Indiana rivalry.

Since he became the Boilermakers' head coach last December, he's been constantly reminded of how important this game is.

He'll get to experience for himself for the first time on Saturday when Purdue (1-10) heads to Bloomington to face the hated Hoosiers (4-7).

"It doesn't take a whole lot of knowledge to know how important this game is to the Boilermaker fans as well as the Indiana Hoosier fans," Hazell said.

As an assistant coach, Hazell was part of some of the nation's hottest rivalries: Ohio State-Michigan, Army-Navy and West Virginia-Pitt. Last season as a head coach at Kent State, he experienced that school's rivalry with Akron.

And he knows how important it is to win those games, especially this season when the Boilermakers could desperately use any kind of momentum into the offseason.

"It's huge. It does so much for everybody," Hazell said. "It's a mental health game, potentially. This is a big game. It's not a do-or-die situation. But it's a game you have to find a way to play as well as you can possibly play to give yourself a chance to win the football game."

As Hazell continues to educate himself on the history of the Bucket game, he's also using each opportunity to share those discoveries with players.

For Hazell, pomp and circumstance is defined this week.

On Sunday, he had someone put together a highlight tape showing all of sports greatest rivalries, capped with Purdue-Indiana. He'll show the team Tuesday another video, showcasing what he called the top 10 plays by the Boilermakers in the Bucket game. He has something else planned with the Bucket, though he wouldn't reveal just what.

Surely the locker room and individual meeting rooms are decked out with signs like the ones viewable inside the coaches' offices in Mollenkopf - Indiana placards with "beat" taped on top and pictures of Purdue hoisting the Bucket tacked up in the elevator in the facility.

Hazell has issued directives to his coaching staff to not put too much in this week scheme-wise, but to not overload players so they can play faster and harder.

Even the practice schedule has changed leading up to the Indiana game: Hazell knocked off two periods from Tuesday's practice and one from Wednesday in order to keep the players "fresh."

But for all the revving up that will happen during the week, Hazell says it's imperative the team controls that emotion once the game begins.

"As crazy as the rivalry can be … you've got to be calm when the game starts and do a good job with your players of letting them know it's not a street fight. It's a football game, and you can't take those crazy penalties that are lingering out there when you want to take a shot at a guy," Hazell said. "It's a football game and you've got to be able to handle all that's going to occur at some point in time in the game."

No excuses
Danny Etling will be making his seventh career start Saturday, and he'll continued to be surrounded by fellow underclassmen at the receiver spots.

That inexperience and youth undoubtedly has contributed to Purdue's offensive struggles. The Boilermakers are the lowest-scoring program in the Big Ten, entering their final game with only 68 points in seven league games.

But don't tell Etling, the true freshman, that makes the lack of production OK.

"I don't think we should ever have the excuse to fall back on that we're young," Etling said. "We should always be trying to produce. I don't think anybody in our locker room or in our offense is going to say that. Hopefully they won't because I think we can produce and we are good enough to produce, and we just have to go out and do it.

"We can't be saying we're too young because nobody cares how you are. They just care about how much you're producing and how well you're doing and how much you're improving, so that's what we're going to keep doing."

It's possible true freshman DeAngelo Yancey (hamstring) will be back this week after missing the Illinois game, but even in his place, Purdue didn't bump up its experience at receiver last week. Sophomore Shane Mikesky simply got more snaps, joining sophomore Danny Anthrop and redshirt Cameron Posey.

Hazell, a former receiver, made a coaching career out of molding receivers into all-league-type players and, sometimes, future pros. Though he's not involved in the day-to-day development of Purdue's crop of youngsters - that's position coach Kevin Sherman - Hazell has been quick to pull those players aside to offer tips and he's seen the group develop as the season has progressed.

He says there's no timetable for when young receivers don't play young anymore.

"It's a lot to do with plays, how much they're playing and being able to see those different looks week in and week out and being able to play with some speed around press coverage, bump coverage, bail coverage, being able to play faster," he said. "But you know when you know (that they're ready).

"I think (the offense is) going to develop very quickly as soon as we get more stability up front where (Etling) has a chance to sit back there and read defenses. Those (receivers) are starting to understand how to get open. You saw them cut themselves open a couple times on Saturday, got to finish the play. But they're getting better."

Latta ending strongly

Greg Latta's healthy again.

And based on his performances the last couple outings, he was no where near 100 percent at midseason. The defensive end is recovered from a hamstring injury, and a recurrence, that kept him from playing effectively for a stretch in the middle of the season.

It's been a frustrating personal battle, within a frustrating season, for the senior defensive end.

"The first time I pulled it this season, it was the Wednesday before the Notre Dame game," Latta said. "And I was so mad, not just for myself but for the team because I was like 'This is such a big game and they need me. I've pulled my hamstring and won't be 100 percent.' I got teary at practice I was so frustrated.

"But then the second time, the NIU game, that was frustrating because I was getting better and starting to feel pretty good and boom again. It was setback after setback after setback. Ugh."

Latta's play on the field suffered. After collecting nine tackles, two pass breakups and a half sack in Purdue's first two games, he limped his way to six tackles against the Irish. But he could barely practice in the weeks that followed; he was held to only a tackle in the next three weeks, including the NIU game in which he left after the first half.

"It's almost like every stride I'd take out on the field would just feel like tearing," said Latta, a former J.C. transfer. "It was painful, but you try to work through it. Now, I don't really feel it. The strength level is not the same as before I injured it, or the quickness or speed, stuff like that. But it's light years better than how I felt midseason."

In the last three games, Latta has 11 tackles. Against Penn State he forced a fumble, and vs. Indiana, he might have turned in his best game as a Boilermaker, with a sack and a QB pressure that turned into an interception.

He's glad for the ending, but wishes he could've given more.

"Knowing if I'm completely healthy, 'Oh, I could have made this play or that play,' because I was this far away," Latta said.

Hit the road

The day after the season ends - hours after really - Hazell and his staff will be on the road recruiting.

The open contact period starts Dec. 1, a Sunday, and runs through the 15th, a shorter window than years past. Hazell says his plane flies out at 10 a.m. Sunday, about 15 hours after the end of the Bucket game.

"It's a little bit tougher now," he said. "We're going about 14 days where we can actually have some contacts with the recruits, which we're going to have to hustle, get to a lot of different places in those two weeks."

Hazell will be back on campus Dec. 6-8, the first couple days for a recruiting weekend, then the team's postseason banquet. He says 16 prospects are scheduled in for those couple days.

"We have to do a good job with organization, making sure we have everything just on point so we can do a great job that weekend," said Hazell, who has 10 players committed for 2014 right now.

The dead period is extended, lasting from Dec. 16 to Jan. 16, until contact is opened up again. Signing day is Feb. 5.

"We're going to have to get out, get around, see a lot of people," Hazell said.

New traditions

Purdue's seniors will have a bit of a victory lap on Thursday, jogging around the practice field for the last time as Boilermakers.

It's one of Hazell's new traditions.

"Our last time for the seniors take a run around the practice field, have our underclassmen greet those guys as they come off the field for the last time," he said. "We have a couple things we're doing like that."

Hazell also had Purdue's band play a mini concert for the team on Sunday, with member introducing themselves to the players and vice versa.

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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