Purdue looked opportunity in the face Saturday. Opportunity ended up knocking over the Boilermakers yet again.
Following an encouraging, 45-24, victory against Eastern Kentucky in Week 1, Purdue played host to Cincinnati of the American Athletic Conference. The respectful Bearcats provided a good measuring stick to see if the Boilermakers were progressing.
The results were ugly. The Boilermakers fell behind 31-7 early the fourth quarter. They scored a few cosmetic touchdowns in the final period to save some face in a 38-20 drubbing.
Fourth-year Purdue Coach Darrell Hazell doesn’t just sit on a hot seat, it’s scalding. His teams in West Lafayette, Ind., are 7-31 overall and 2-22 in the Big Ten.
The Boilermakers now have two weeks to think about what might have been. They play host to Nevada in the nonconference finale Sept. 24 before Big Ten road games at Maryland and Illinois. Iowa, Nebraska and Penn State follow.
“Well, we lost one game. That’s not a season,” Hazell said during his post-game press conference Saturday. “So we’ll come back and go to work. We certainly are not going to act like Chicken Little and act like the sky is falling. We are going to come back to work and address the problems to get them fixed.”
After the showing against Cincinnati, it looks like an uphill battle for Hazell.
“We’ll take a long look at things as a staff when we get off the road [from recruiting], and we will make the corrections that we need to make. We need to get better in those situations that are hurting us right now. Obviously, third downs and not making enough plays offensively, then making sure that we take care of the football. There will be a plan in place to make sure that it gets fixed,” he said.
Words that Purdue fans have become accustomed to hearing. They’re still waiting on action. They are doing so from home as evidenced by the announced crowd of 33,068 for Cincinnati in a stadium that holds 62,500.
The quarterback position for Hazell has been a revolving door of mediocrity. Sophomore David Blough, the latest incarnation behind center, tossed five interceptions Saturday. Meanwhile, on the same day, home-state hero, Danny Etling, was leading LSU to victory following a transfer from Purdue.
“Some of [Blough’s picks] were deflected balls, and deflected balls always lead to interceptions. Some were challenged balls that we either need to throw away or get out of the air as a receiver, so that they are not interceptions. But there are all different types of interceptions,” Hazell said.
It’s a coach protecting his player, which is admirable. So is the fact that Boilermakers kept digging in the fourth quarter. But the positives are too few and far between.
“We just need to find that killer instinct as a team. A lot of it reflects the quarterback position, across the board we need to make plays when they are there, that’s all that matters. That’s the game of football for you,” Blough said.
It’s a game Purdue has yet to figure out under Hazell, who came to West Lafayette following a successful two-year stint leading Kent State and long run as an Ohio State assistant. He replaced Danny Hope, who navigated through four lackluster seasons that produced a 13-19 Big Ten record.
The Boilermaker fans are yearning for the days of Cowboy Joe Tiller, who was unceremoniously run out of town in 2008 following a few down years. The Purdue faithful may still even remember the 10 bowl games he took them to in 11 years.
Hazell is on the clock and more time ticked away with the embarrassment against Cincinnati. Sinking attendance as a result of poor results only plays for so long in big money college athletics.