Purdue seeks offensive solutions

The last time Darrell Hazell coached against Northern Illinois, his team scored 37 points in a double-overtime thriller.

That was at Kent State, which lost to the Huskies 44-37 in last season's MAC title game. The odds are against Hazell's new team, Purdue, engaging in a similar shootout when NIU comes to Ross-Ade Stadium on Saturday.

The 1-3 Boilermakers have struggled to score or move the ball consistently in every game except their 31-24 loss to Notre Dame, which is starting to look like the aberration. Here are some of the ugly rankings of Purdue's offense out of 123 FBS teams:

  • No. 121 in both yards per game (246) and yards per play (4.0)

  • No. 116 in rushing yards per game (70.5)

  • No. 102 in passing yards per game (175)

  • No. 117 in points per game (15.3)

The Boilers followed up their promising effort against Notre Dame with last week's dud at Wisconsin, when they managed just 180 total yards in a 41-10 loss.

"I felt honestly that we took a little bit of a step back this past Saturday," Hazell said.

The offense hasn't done much all season, but the passing game has been conspicuously absent. Purdue has not developed any consistent downfield threats and spent most of last week looking for short passes and screens. Here are some more depressing stats: only 24.3 percent of the Boilers' passes have resulted in a first down, while only 36.8 percent have gone for at least 10 yards. Both of those figures are the worst in the Big Ten.

So what's the problem? Hazell said it starts with the offensive line.

"It's hard to pass the ball when you can't protect," he said. "It's hard to run the ball when you don't have guys on the right guys and those types of things. We've got to get those things fixed up."

The blocking has been so spotty that Hazell said the center and guard who were supposed to double team Wisconsin's nose guard on running calls Saturday twice cut that defender loose, blowing up the entire play.

But it's not just the line. So far, Purdue's receivers -- a promising group coming into the season -- have not shown the consistent ability to get separation and make big plays even when the protection is there.

"You're going to see a lot of man-to-man coverage because we didn't do a great job of beating one-on-one matchups [against Wisconsin], Hazell said.

Many Boilers fans are calling for a change at quarterback. Senior Rob Henry is completing just 56.3 percent of his passes and has thrown four touchdowns. His QBR score is 30.5 (out of a possible 100). But Hazell doesn't think switching to Austin Appleby or Danny Etling would solve the problems.

"I don't feel Rob took a step back last week," he said. "He's gotten better, but it's hard to be in that position.

"There was a play I stopped for the staff on Sunday and said, 'Would you guys like to be a quarterback in that situation?' You've got guys up the field pretty quickly. The receivers were all covered. He didn't have an uncovered guy. I said. 'I don't know what quarterback would like that situation right there.'

"He needs a little bit of help, obviously. We all need to be better, not just Rob, but the whole football team right now."

If that doesn't happen by Saturday, Purdue will head into its bye week at 1-4.