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Preseason Q&A 2013: Hammer & Rails

You call those muscles?
You call those muscles?

Up next in our preseason Q&A is Purdue. Travis Miller, of the great Purdue blog Hammer & Rails, was kind enough to answer questions about the Boilermakers and new coach Darrell Hazell. You can read my answers to his Qs here.

1. Back-to-back bowl seasons, but did it seem like Purdue plateaued under Danny Hope? Regardless of the hire, did a change need to be made?

I think so. When we entered last season with a legitimate shot to win (or at least represent) the division and go to the Big Ten title game and Purdue looked completely and totally unprepared in back-to-back big games against Michigan and Wisconsin something had to give. That span really turned off the last of the Hope supporters. It's not that we lost, but that the team got steamrolled because it looked completely ill-prepared.

Hope was only 14-14 over the last two years, but the best win was over a 7-6 Western Michigan team in the Little Caesar's Bowl. The next best win was over either 7-6 Illinois when they canned Ron Zook or a 6-7 Ohio State team. It's not like he was beating the 1985 Bears here.

It also was not a talent issue. You don't take both undefeated teams in the country down to the wire if you're not talented. If anything, the near misses at Notre Dame and Ohio State gave the fans even more ammunition. If you could compete and nearly beat both of those teams there is no excuse to look as bad as we did against Wisconsin and Michigan.

2. Darrell Hazell comes in having not done much outside of last season at Kent State. As a Tressel disciple, is this going to be Tresselball? If so, is that a good thing?

I don't care if he wins every game 3-0. I am tired of mediocrity and just want wins. So what if Tressellball didn't look the best? It looked good where it mattered most: in the win column. Purdue has not had a strong defense in about 10 seasons now. The offense has always been respectable, but inconsistent of late. On defense Purdue refused to cover the middle of the field on third down and simply got run over by big, physical teams like Wisconsin. Aside from the bottom of the Big Ten and MAC fodder the defense has been awful in big games (aside from, strangely, Ohio State at home).

It is my hope that Hazell changes that. You're always going to be able to get good quarterbacks and a decent offense atPurdue. If you don't have a good defense in the Big Ten, however, you're not going to do much regardless of how good the offense is. Just ask Indiana, or Michigan under Rich Rodriguez.

3. What are the expectations in 2013? You have MSU, Nebraska and Iowa from the Legends, and that's quietly a difficult nonconference schedule with Cincy, Notre Dame and Northern Illinois.

I'd love to reach 6-6 and get to a bowl game again. It would feel like an improvement against a tougher schedule than last year. Purdue needs to beat the four I schools (Indiana State, Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa) who don't look really tough, then find two more wins somewhere else.

NIU won at Purdue in 2009 and this version of the Huskies is better. Playing at Cincinnati will be tough because they were a 10-win team last year. Getting Notre Dame at home will be interesting given the loss of Golson.

Ultimately. I think we beat the four I schools, and find two wins somewhere else. People think I am crazy, but don't count us out against Ohio State in terms of a huge upset. Strangely, the Buckeyes have not done well of late in West Lafayette, going 2-4 in their last six trips. One of their two wins was the infamous "Holy Buckeye" game as well. We have no business doing so, but we strangely play them better than almost anyone else and should have beaten them in Columbus last year. Even OSU fans will admit we have their number at Ross-Ade for some odd reason.

4. What's the quarterback situation? A highly-touted freshman or Rob Henry, who almost won at MSU in 2010?

It will go into fall camp but it looks like Rob Henry and true freshman Danny Etling separated themselves from redshirt freshman Austin Appleby in the spring. Appleby could get back in it, but Etling enrolled early to go through spring practice and looked really good. I could see Henry wining the job because of experience at the position.

Etling is the better passer, but Henry's best asset is his ability to run well. Even if Etling wins I think Henry moves to wide receiver or running back and gets the occasional snap as a wildcat QB. Thankfully, it won't be a true splitting of duties like last year when sometimes Robert Marve, Caleb TerBush, AND Henry were getting significant snaps at QB in the same game. There is only going to be one true starter, but if it is Etling or Appleby I can definitely see Henry involved on the field in some capacity. He is too good with the ball in his hands to be kept totally on the sidelines.

5. Thoughts on being in the B1G West, where we wanted to be?

Purdue fans loved it. We get the "easier" division AND Indiana as a permanent crossover rival? I don't think we could ask for a better situation. For the teams in the East, they have owned Purdue for the most part. In the West Purdue leads the all-time series with Iowa, Northwestern, and Nebraska and is relatively close with Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Illinois. We also have a very comfortable lead all-time with Indiana.

I think the perception is that we can be right there with only Wisconsin and Nebraska as consistently tough programs. It certainly makes us feel better.

Thanks again to Travis for answering our questions. Check out Hammer & Rails for all things Purdue,