New Purdue coach takes backseat at 1st spring game
Purdue coach Darrell Hazell took plenty of notes Saturday, and now he'll have plenty to ponder heading into fall practice.
Instead of calling plays at Saturday's spring football game, Purdue's new coach spent most of the afternoon walking around in a white windbreaker and black baseball cap analyzing every play from the offensive backfield. His early conclusion: The Boilermakers look better than they did four weeks ago when spring practice began but still have room for lots of improvement.
''I really like the direction we're heading,'' Hazell said after his first spring game in West Lafayette. ''Obviously, there's a lot of work to be done before we open up the season, but I think they're starting to understand what it takes to be a better football team.''
Purdue didn't show much during the game and that was by design. Hazell acknowledged he limited the play-calling for both offenses and both defenses in an effort to keep things simple.
Officially, Team Black defeated Team Gold 14-0 on a day former Purdue stars Mike Alstott, Bob Griese, Travis Dorsch and Stuart Schweigert all returned to their alma mater. Alstott, Dorsch and Schwiegert even entertained fans with a halftime punt, pass and kick competition.
On the field, though, things didn't go nearly as well for the Boilermakers.
Kicker Sam McCartney missed a chip shot field goal to the left. Redshirt freshman quarterback Austin Appleby had three passes batted down at the line of scrimmage and freshman quarterback Danny Etling was picked off. Frankie Williams muffed a punt. The black team was called for a delay of game and the gold team's only scoring chance of the day vanished when Paul Griggs' 41-yard field goal attempt came up well short, and one of the day's two scores came after the gold team was called for roughing the passer, turning a 31-yard pass into a 46-yard gain.
And all that came in the first half. The two teams combined for five turnovers, including three interceptions, and a handful of penalties.
At times, things even looked comical. On one second-half play, a receiver from the gold team was hit just as the ball arrived, allowing 305-pound defensive tackle Michael Rouse III to snatch the floating football out of the air and start lumbering across and up the field as he shook off far smaller would-be tacklers.
''When the ball popped out and I saw it, my eyes got real big,'' Rouse said, drawing laughter. ''From there, I wasn't really sure where to go, but I've played enough video games to know you stay behind your blockers.''
Part of the reason things didn't look as smooth was that Purdue was missing some key players.
Those sitting out included cornerback Ricardo Allen, receiver Gary Bush, running Brandon Cottom and safety Landon Feichter, all of whom are expected to play big roles this fall.
Plus, the Boilermakers are still getting acclimated to the new coaching staff and the new offensive and defensive systems.
But Hazell also understood that his team could have put on a better show for a crowd estimated to be about 6,500 on a brisk, chilly, overcast afternoon.
''One of the big things you look at it is how well you take care of the football,'' he said. ''It's a lot better if the player handling the football gives it back to the official, that's what I was taking notes on and I think we had six situations where that didn't happen. I wanted to remind guys that that's important, that if you do that, it can get you two or three more wins each year.''
It's a philosophy Hazell has been trying to instill since he was hired in December and began his full-time coaching duties in January, after finishing out the season at Kent State.
Things could have been a whole lot worse. Last spring, rain forced the Boilermakers to move the game indoors. On Saturday, fans had to contend only with late-fall weather.
There were some bright spots, too. Akeem Hunt ran 19 times for 134 yards and scored on a 15-yard run at the end of the first quarter to give the black team a 7-0 lead. Quarterback Rob Henry, a fifth-year senior, was solid, finishing 6 of 9 for 75 yards including an 8-yard TD pass to Shane Mikesky midway through the second quarter.
Those two scores accounted for all the scoring.
But the most important part for Hazell is getting the 1-hour, 45-minute scrimmage on tape so he can break it down and start making corrections.
''I thought both teams on both sides of the ball played pretty hard,'' Hazell said. ''We still have a long way to go. One of our goals coming into the spring was that we wanted to be a smarter team and I think we're getting there.''