Purdue showed improvement in its second season under Darrell Hazell. Unfortunately, the end result is still just four victories overall and none at home in Big Ten play in Hazell's two seasons leading the Boilermakers. Sixteen starters return, giving Hazell plenty of experience to work with, but it's probably too much to expect this Purdue team to climb out of the cellar in the Big Ten West Division.
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Previewing Purdue’s Offense for 2015
Junior quarterback Austin Appleby, who started the 2014 season’s final seven games and led the Boilermakers to their only Big Ten victory in coach Darrell Hazell’s two seasons at Purdue, returns but will have to improve after an ugly November in which he completed at least 50 percent of his passes in only two of four games. If he struggles early, redshirt freshman David Blough or true freshman Elijah Sindelar will be waiting in the wings.
The Boilermakers must replace their top two running backs — Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert — but have promising freshman Markell Jones, Indiana’s 2014 Mr. Football who rushed for 60 touchdowns as a high school senior, and sophomore Keyante Green, who rushed for 199 yards as a backup in 2014.
Led by senior center Robert Kugler, the entire starting line returns, and senior wide receiver Danny Anthrop will give the Boilermakers one of the Big Ten’s top targets if he is 100 percent after undergoing knee surgery in early December. Anthrop caught 38 passes for 616 yards in only nine games, suffering a knee injury at Nebraska in Week 10.
Previewing Purdue’s Defense for 2015
Eight of Purdue’s 12 opponents in 2014 scored 30 points or more against a defense that was feeling its way while playing a bunch of freshmen and sophomores. Middle linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley, now a sophomore, will anchor the 2015 defense after making 76 tackles as a freshman. Junior linebacker Jimmy Herman made 56 tackles a year ago, and sophomore Danny Ezechukwu also is a returning starter.
Junior Evan Panfil and sophomore Gelen Robinson will step into the starting end slots to replace Ryan Russell and Jalani Phillips. Junior Jake Replogle returns as a starting tackle, but this unit knows it must improve after finishing 10th in total defense in the Big Ten.
Frankie Williams will be the focal point of the secondary after making 74 tackles and intercepting three passes as a junior, earning All-Big Ten second-team accolades from the league’s coaches. He can play corner or safety. Senior Anthony Brown will start at one corner after making 54 tackles last season, and hard-hitting junior Robert Gregory likely will start at one of the safety positions. If Hazell decides to play Williams at safety with Gregory, junior Leroy Clark probably will start at the corner opposite Brown.
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Previewing Purdue’s Specialists for 2015
With senior kicker Paul Griggs and senior punter Thomas Meadows both back as starters, special teams should be a Boilermaker strength. Griggs made 16-of-20 field-goal attempts as a junior along with 32-of-33 extra points. Meadows punted 58 times for a 39.8-yard average, including 15 that rolled to a stop inside the 20-yard line and seven of 50 yards or more. Williams returned 10 punts for a 17.1-yard average, and Anthrop is the likely candidate to replace Mostert as Purdue’s kickoff return specialist.
Having yet to win a Big Ten home game in Hazell’s first two seasons and having failed to win any game after the first week of October, Purdue needs to take a big step in 2015 to placate a fan base that is grumbling after a November free fall that included losing to rival Indiana for a second consecutive season. The defense has a chance to be much better, and the offensive line is sound with six players back who started at least six games in 2014. But other than Anthrop, the Boilermakers are lacking in proven playmakers — and he is coming off a torn ACL.
Finding a way to get out of the Big Ten West basement will be quite a challenge.