Our look at a big Saturday around the Big Ten wraps up with Purdue's Black and Gold Game at Ross-Ade Stadium. The Boilers wrapped up their first spring session under new head coach Darrell Hazell with an 89-play scrimmage, and the Black team prevailed 14-0.
Star of the game: Running back Akeem Hunt. The junior cemented himself as Purdue's top running back during the first 14 spring practices and finished spring ball with a flourish, rushing for 134 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. Linebacker Will Lucas (forced fumble, tackle for loss, pass breakup) and defensive end Ryan Russell (sack, forced fumble, pass breakup) also had good days.
How it went down: The Black team looked much stronger on paper entering the game, and although it only won by two touchdowns, its performance was pretty decisive. Sloppy play plagued both offenses for much of the game as there were five combined turnovers (three interceptions, two fumbles) plus another giveaway on special teams.
Ball security will continue to be a sticking point for Hazell, who put up a sign that reads: "The Ball is the Program" in Purdue's team meeting room.
"You can win a lot of football games if you don't turn it over, and one of the key components that leaves no doubt is the player who is hanging onto the football gets the football back to the official," Hazell said. "That's one of the things I was taking notes on. I think there were six situations when we didn't. I wanted to remind the guys that's very important. It may not seem like it. Over the course of the season, that's going to get you an extra two or three wins."
Hunt's big day on the ground is a good sign for an offense still looking for a quarterback to emerge. Senior Rob Henry completed 6 of 9 pass attempts for 75 yards and a touchdown but had three consecutive incomplete passes on a first-and-goal situation from the 4-yard line that resulted in no points after a missed field goal. Freshman early enrollee Danny Etling, who has emerged as the top challenger to Henry, completed 5 of 7 attempts for 54 yards with an interception.
Both Henry and Etling played for the Black squad, giving Austin Appleby an opportunity to improve his stock in the competition. But Appleby struggled for the Gold team, completing just 6 of 18 pass attempts for 52 yards with an interception and a lost fumble.
Henry comes out of the spring as Purdue's top quarterback, and though he has impressed Hazell with his play and his leadership, the senior is "definitely in the battle."
Hazell placed some restrictions on both the offense (formations) and the defense (number of blitzes), as he wanted to see both units in their base sets. Bright spots included tight end Gabe Holmes (four receptions, 74 yards), and defensive end Michael Rouse III (interception, two pass breakups).
"I really like the direction that we're heading," Hazell said. "We're working hard and we're understanding how to compete in some tough situations. Obviously, there's a lot of work to be done before we open up the season against Cincinnati, but we're understanding what it takes to be a better football team."
Purdue's spring game will air on the Big Ten Network tonight at 9 p.m. ET.