1. Purdue has now TRIPLED its win output from last season. What's the mood around the program?
I would say cautious optimism, mostly because the easy part of the schedule is over. Things could get very ugly with Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Nebraska in the next four games since Purdue scored a grand total of 17 points against them last season. The three wins are nice, especially with one being in conference and proving we're at least not the worst team, but it still feels like it could have been more.
The Central Michigan game was absolutely brutal with a host of mistakes, struggling offense, inability to stop a MAC team leading to a 21 point loss. Purdue has grown from that game, however. If you played it this week there is a very good chance the Boilers win. The Iowa game also feels like a missed opportunity. The defense played very well and spotted the offense a 10-0 lead at home, but the offense did nothing in the final three quarters. Eventually, the defense just wore down. If Purdue has any offense whatsoever on that day that game is probably a win.
So yeah, 3-3 is nice, but you look at a few things and see where it could have been better. At least the team has shown improvement.
2. Darrell Hazell had one of the roughest first Big Ten seasons in memory, but this one looks far from that. What has he done to turn around the program so quickly?
The freshmen he played last year have become sophomores. He has some true and redshirt freshmen making big contributions this year, but about midway through last year he pretty much sold out for the freshmen. Some, like Ra'Zahn Howard have worked out. Others, like Danny Etling, have been replaced.
Also, the offensive line is playing light years better. The Illinois game is a prime example. Last season Purdue couldn't run on an equally bad run defense. This year it hung 350 yards on them. We at least look like an actual football team so far, which is grand improvement. With some promising talent coming next season and another year of development for the 70+ freshmen and sophomores currently on the roster things may be reaching a turnaround.
3. Although Illinois looks like a tire fire this season, the Boilermakers did well to dismantle them on the road. What did you see in that game that you hadn't seen in the recent past?
We stuck with running the ball until the Illini proved they could stop it. I was genuinely worried that John Shoop would stubbornly try to establish the pass against Illinois, but instead we kept handing it off and we sprung it for big plays. We also took advantage of mistakes. An underrated play in the game was a backwards pass that Josh Ferguson dropped. Purdue fell on it and though it was originally ruled incomplete, the review showed it was a backwards pass. Two plays later Danny Anthrop broke an 80 yard TD pass. It was basically a 10-14 point swing.
It was the first time in a long time we've been able to take advantage of the opposition screwing up, and that was fun.
4. After a rotating carousel of QBs, it looks like Austin Appleby is finally the guy. Will he lead the offensive attack? Or will Akeem Hunt bear the load?
It will be interesting to see. I think that the wind and the combination of his first start last week limited the passing game. That, and why pass when you're breaking 40+ yard runs every drive?
Obviously that running room won't be there against MSU. I think more will be on Appleby, but Hunt, Raheem Mostert, and freshman Keyante Green have moved the ball well on the ground of late. I think Purdue will see what they can do with them early, and if there is some success, stick with it.
5. Purdue had seven tackles for a loss against the Illini. Who should MSU watch out for on defense?
I am excited to see what true freshman Ju'Whaun Bentley can do. He is shifting to Mike linebacker this week because Sean Robinson injured his ACL and so far he has been excellent. In fact, I would already call him the best linebacker we have had for 10 years. That's both to praise him and to show the dearth of talent we have had at the position.
Ryan Russell, Ra'Zahn Howard, and Gelen Robinson have also had some solid moments on the defensive line. Ryan Watson has four sacks, while Frankie Williams and Landon Feichter have played pretty well in the secondary. It is still a young defense, but there are some nice pieces that Hazell is building around with only Russell and Feichter as seniors.
6. Lastly, law dictates that you give a key or keys to the game and a prediction.
Purdue is better this year, but Michigan State is still an awfully good team. I'd love to be able to keep it within a score until the fourth quarter like last season, but that was a huge outlier. I think Sparty wins something like 34-10.