2014 Review: For the second consecutive season the Boilermakers found themselves at the bottom of the Big Ten conference, winning just one game in league play in 2014. Beginning the season 3-3 and close losses to Michigan State and Minnesota as well as a conference win over Illinois, things appeared to be better on the gridiron in West Lafayette. But, it was another gloom and doom season for Darrell Hazell’s bunch.
After replacing Danny Etling with Austin Appleby early in the season, Purdue’s offense started to put together a few more effective outings. The Boilers seemed to be able to move the football on the ground and through the air, something they struggled with the previous season.
But things really went downhill after leading receiver Danny Anthrop went down in the game against Nebraska. In the final three games without him, Purdue was unable to score more than 16 points and feel to Wisconsin, Northwestern and Indiana to finish the year 3-9.
Purdue ended the season towards the bottom of the conference in nearly every statistical category on offense and defense, making it hard for it to find wins on the field. Senior running backs Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert, along with safety Landon Feichter, provided plenty of good moments for the Boilers in 2014, but it wasn’t enough for Purdue to climb up the Big Ten conference.
High Point: Not many come to mind, which makes this an easy decision. Hazell and the Boilermakers got their first conference win in two seasons over Illinois in a 38-27 road win.
Appleby made his first start under center in the contest and played a clean game to lead the Boilers to victory. He completed 15 of his 20 passes for 202 yards and a touchdown and added 76 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Hunt also put together one of his best performances, rushing for 177 yards and a score on 30 carries.
Purdue didn’t turn the ball over in the contest and was able to steal the ball from the Illini twice in the game. At the time, it appeared to be a huge step in the right direction for a program coming off a 1-11 season.
Low Point: Even though the games ended in losses, performances against Michigan State and Minnesota had fans believing Purdue was making strides to emerge as a competitive football program, which made the final three weeks of the season more devastating.
With Anthrop out of the lineup due to injury, Purdue’s offense looked out of sync and the defense had difficulty slowing down anyone. The Boilermakers didn’t even appear to be competitive in games against Wisconsin and Northwestern and let one slip through their fingers against Indiana.
In the end, it was the second-straight loss to the Hoosiers that stuck with Purdue as the low point of the year. Hazell has yet to win an Oaken Bucket and Indiana’s two-straight wins over its most hated rival is the first time it has occurred since the 1993-1994 seasons.
Best Player: Despite Purdue’s troubles defensively, it had a top-notch safety in senior Landon Feichter, who led the team in tackles and interceptions. He finished his career with the black and gold with 105 tackles and five interceptions in his final season.
His top performance came in the win against Illinois, recording a season-high 12 tackles against Illinois and intercepting a pass late in the game to lock up Purdue’s first Big Ten win since the 2012 season. He also recorded two of his five interceptions to go along with six tackles in a 35-14 loss to Nebraska in early November.
2015 Outlook: The 2015 season will be make-it or break-it time for Hazell, and things won’t be any easier next season. The Boilers look to be making improvement on the field and in the recruiting game, but will it be enough to get back to .500 and earn a bowl bid, a goal that has to be reached to keep the head coach off the hot seat?
Top running backs Mostert and Hunt are gone on the offensive side, and Feichter will be missing on the defensive side, as well. There will be plenty of voids to fill next season, but there is some hope.
Appleby will return as an experienced starter and will have Anthrop back on the field as his top target next season. Purdue’s defense will be led by Frankie Williams, who was another play-maker for the Boilermakers. The youth on the defensive side has gained more experience, too, which should be a benefit heading into 2015.
Purdue has some talent returning and should be more competitive, but with trips to Marshall, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Iowa on the schedule along with home games against Nebraska and Virginia Tech, wins will be hard to come by next season. Purdue needs to make giant steps in the offseason to compete in the Big Ten next year.