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Wednesday, July 31, 2013
Early look at Purdue Boilermakers

By Josh Moyer

Every day this week, NittanyNation will continue taking a closer look at a different game this season and how the matchup stacks up for PSU. Up today: Purdue.

Darrell Hazell finished last season with one of the nation's most impressive coaching performances, leading Kent State to an 11-win season and coming within a heartbeat of an Orange Bowl berth.

Purdue's new head coach will need another one of the country's best performances just to get the Boilermakers into a bowl.

Hazell will need to break in a new quarterback and a new stable of receivers. Purdue will need to replace its best defensive player in DT Kawann Short. And it will need to fight past a tough non-conference slate that includes Cincinnati and Notre Dame.

Hazell's up for the challenge, but make no mistake about it: This is a rebuilding season for the Boilermakers. Hazell turned around a struggling Kent State squad from 5-7 in his debut season to 11-3 in Year 2. This will probably be a similar first season for Hazell record-wise, and there'll be plenty of bumps along the way.

When: Time TBA on Nov. 16 at Beaver Stadium

Ricardo Allen
Ricardo Allen has been a big-play threat at cornerback during his Purdue career.
Last season: Purdue (6-7, 3-5 Big Ten); lost Heart of Dallas Bowl vs. Oklahoma State, 58-14

Series history: PSU 12-3-1

Biggest question marks: The entire passing game is littered with question marks. Robert Marve and Caleb TerBush split time last season -- and now both signal-callers are gone. The new QB still hasn't been decided upon and could either be senior Rob Henry or true freshman Danny Etling.

Whoever lines up under center won't have an easy job. O.J. Ross was the No. 1 WR last season but was suspended and then declared for the NFL's supplemental draft, where he wasn't picked. Gary Bush is the leader now, but there's a lot of inexperience behind him. The Boilermakers are hoping to make up for that by targeting their tight ends, such as senior Gabe Holmes.

On defense, replacing Short is no easy task but the defensive line is relatively strong as a whole. The one unit that's not? Linebacker. That's the weakness of the defense and could spell trouble for Purdue if a quick tailback such as Akeel Lynch gets past the line.

Strengths: When a team loses two tailbacks -- Akeem Shavers and Ralph Bolden -- who led the team in carries, running back usually isn't considered a strength. But Purdue isn't a usual team. The Boilermakers have one of the more underrated ground games in the Big Ten and could be the wild card this season when it comes to that.

Akeem Hunt is a shifty 5-foot-9, 184-pound tailback who averaged eight yards a carry last season on 42 attempts. And Brandon Cottom should provide a complementary 1-2 punch since he's 6-foot-4 and 258 pounds and averaged nine yards a carry last season on 23 attempts. The duo isn't all that different from Kent State's Dri Archer-Trayion Durham combo, and it certainly helps that Hazell brought running backs coach Jafar Williams with him.

On defense, the secondary is a strength and is headed by Ricardo Allen, an All-Big Ten corner who was the best-dressed player at Big Ten media days. The Boilermakers finished 61st in pass defense a year ago and should be improved since it lost just one starting DB.

Who to watch: RBs Hunt and Cottom. Hazell succeeded at Kent State without a solid passing game because he was able to rely on his thunder-and-lightning running game. That same style is set up perfectly for him at Purdue, and Hazell will undoubtedly depend on this to garner a few wins.

Hunt was underutilized last season, and Cottom can put a hurting on defensive lines lacking in depth. At 258 pounds, he's bigger than some defensive ends -- and PSU won't have an easy time bringing him down late in the game. This pair could be a game-changer for Purdue. If the Boilermakers succeed on offense, they'll be reasons No. 1 and 2.

What you might not know: Just how big is Cottom? He's 44 pounds heavier than the average Big Ten running back and 18 pounds heavier than Zach Zwinak. His dimensions (6-4, 258) are almost identical to PSU defensive end Anthony Zettel (6-4, 257) -- and he was recruited relatively heavily by PSU.

He's from the same high school as DE Curtis Cothran -- Newtown (Pa.) Council Rock North -- and he attended the Blue-White Game back in 2010.

"This is totally like a special game," Cottom told ESPN back then. "You don't see this too much in college football."

Cottom's early favorites were Duke and Rutgers before Purdue entered the picture. PSU wound up with RB Bill Belton in that class instead.

Early prediction: PSU 27-17. The Lions quickly catch up to Purdue's one-dimensional offense and keep the Boilermakers guessing with a balanced attack.