MSU heads into the conference play undefeated but far from satisfied. The Spartans will look to start the Big Ten season off on the right foot when they welcome Purdue to East Lansing for this Saturday's homecoming tilt. Hammer and Rails' Andrew Ledman sat down with us to discuss what to expect from the Boilermakers in this one.
Update: Austin's Q&A answers can be found here.
1. To this point, Darell Hazell's two-plus year tenure as Head Coach has produced only five wins, including just one against Big Ten competition. How hot is his seat?
That all depends on who you ask. From a fan's perspective we have a large section of the fan base pining longingly for the days of Danny Hope. That's not a good thing for anyone. If you're interested in ending a season 6-6 and losing to MAC schools then Danny Hope is your man. I think that from Athletic Director Morgan Burke's perspective Hazell seat is lukewarm at best. Burke tends to give coaches their minimum four years to make their indent on the program. Plus, despite the abysmal record at this point you can actually see that the team is better this year than these last two seasons. It's only amounted to one win but you can tell progress is being made. My initial thought is at the end of the year either the OC or DC will be forced out instead of Hazell.
2. From the outside looking in, it seems like the Boilermakers just can't get out of their own way. The offense is averaging 30+ points per game but have turned the ball over 10 times already. Defensively, they're getting into the backfield (35 TFL's) but averaging 170+ rushing yards and 265 passing against, per game. Can you pinpoint the reason for the early season struggles for each side of the ball?
You nailed it in the question, Purdue can't get out of their own way. Look at the last game against Bowling Green for instance. In the fourth quarter alone Purdue wound up with roughly four defensive penalties allowing BG to just drive down the field with absolutely little resistance. And, because it's Purdue the penalties occurred on third down. There just seems to be a lack of either discipline or situational awareness by this team. The defense also lacks a really solid pass rush. So many of the TFLs are a result of poor opposition.
On the offensive side of the ball Purdue just tends to give the ball away. The first play from scrimmage this season was a pick six thrown by former starter Austin Appleby. Telegraphed the entire way. That sort of set the tone for what to expect from the offense at that point. The sad part is Appleby was given the starting job because he supposedly took care of the ball better than Blough. I think I speak for most fans though when I say the main problem with the offense is John Shoop the OC. The guy seems to continue falling up in life. No matter what he does he always gets another well paying job. Purdue currently has two very solid running backs but consistently takes the ball out of their hands and has the QB run. 3rd and 7? Draw play! 4th and 1? Long ball! There's absolutely no logic to his play calling. Shoop is trying to get this team to be good at everything but the team hasn't mastered anything.
3. For the third straight season Purdue has undergone a mid-season Quarterback change. This year it's Austin Appleby giving way to Redshirt Freshman David Blough, who had an impressive statistical debut last week against Bowling Green (29/39, 340 yds, 2TD's, 1INT). Why did Blough get the nod? Is it his job for the remainder of the season?
Blough got the nod because quite frankly Appleby had played terrible. Appleby was supposed to be the great decision maker. He replayed Danny Etling last season and there was a noticeable change in the offense. Of course, that only lasted until Danny Anthrop got injured and then the offense tanked. I guess in retrospect we all should've seen this season's terrible offense coming. In the three games so far this season Appleby had 6 interceptions compared with only 5 touchdowns. In his last start against Virginia Tech Appleby was 9-28 and rushed 13 times for a blistering 11 yards. He had to go.
Blough reminds me of former Purdue QB Robert Marve. Both guys are incredibly talented but also have a bit of a gunslinger reputation. I would love it if Blough turns into a Marve clone. The guy just went out there and made plays. It wasn't always pretty when he went out there but the guy made the plays. Blough seems to play the same way. Unless there's some sort of injury the starting job is his for the rest of the season. I find it hard to believe they would move back to Appleby at this point.
4. It looks like there are some keepers on the defense, specifically sophomore defensive end Antoine Miles and linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley. How key are those two? Who else should Spartan fans keep an eye on?
Without a doubt Bentley has been the most pleasant surprise of the last two years. For years Purdue has been using former high school QBs or converted safeties as their linebackers but now they have a legitimate linebacker. As just a sophomore he's already a leader of this team and was named a team captain in the offseason. If he continues to improve the sky is the limit for him.
Miles really has been a huge help at one of Purdue's weakest units. The defensive line used to be a strength of Purdue but the last few years the pass rush has been non-existent. Miles already has four sacks this season and he is looking better and better each game. He's definitely one to watch.
The only other defensive player I'd say to keep an eye on would be Frankie Williams. The senior CB hasn't made as many big plays this year but at every turn I expect him to be able to go up and grab an interception.
5. Despite not winning either contest, Purdue has been a thorn in MSU's side each of the last two seasons. What must they do to play spoiler this year?
How can the 1-3 Boilermakers defeat the #2 ranked Michigan State Spartans? There's three things they will need; 1. Drew Brees (in a David Blough jersey) 2. Ryan Kerrigan 3. Some sort of time machine. There's just absolutely no shot of this happening. Purdue hasn't faced a defense like the Spartans all year and I don't imagine the QB getting his second start is going to pull off the monumental upset in East Lansing.
Michigan State 42, Purdue 17. For some reason even that seems optimistic because it assumes Purdue can make a field goal. Ugh...I need to go drink.
Thanks to Andrew and the fine folks at Hammer and Rails for answering The Only Questions!