WEST LAFAYETTE – Purdue football had plenty of questions to be answered this spring. Who would be the starting quarterback? Who would play at the linebacker position? How would the players respond to new head coach Darrell Hazell?
With all of these questions, one position certainly got a solid statement put on it during the Gold & Black game Saturday afternoon at Ross Ade Stadium. Akeem Hunt solidified himself as the top running back as he ran all over the field, accumulating 134 yards on 19 carries for an average of just over seven yards per carry.
Hunt also gave the Black team the first score of the game on a 15-yard run en route to the Black squad's 14-0 victory over the Gold team in front of 6,427 fans.
“I felt I played a great game but have to credit the O-line,” Hunt said. “They had the mindset to rush for over 300 yards coming into this game.”
Hunt said he spent this spring season trying to get stronger. When he wasn't in the weight room, he was doing push-ups and drinking protein shakes. It certainly led to a big day against his teammates, but now he is focused on making sure that translates to the fall.
“I have a lot of confidence in him (Hunt), I think he is a marquee guy in this league, because he does have balance, he has some line quickness and he has top end speed to take it the distance,” Hazell said. “…where he is now, I think he'll be pretty special if he keeps working at it.”
While running back was a strong point offensively, the defensive side of the ball was dominant for both sides throughout the day. The defense created five turnovers and was routinely putting its hands up at the line to wreak havoc with eight pass breakups.
The defensive line also had two of the three interceptions, with Jalani Phillips leaping into the air to snatch one and Michael Rouse III catching one off a deflected ball.
“When the ball popped out, my eyes got really big and from it was just a blur,” Rouse III said about the interception and return. “I didn't even know which way I was supposed to go but I saw a crowd and jumped over them. And I've played enough video games to know to stay behind my blockers.”
For answers at the quarterback position, Hazell said Rob Henry played well but that it would still likely be until two weeks before Purdue's first game that he will announce a starter. Henry was 6-for-9 for 75 yards and had the other score in the game. On a 2nd-and-goal, the senior found wide receiver Shane Mikesky for an eight-yard touchdown reception late in the second quarter.
The other Black team quarterback, Danny Etling, was 5-for-7 for 54 yards and one interception for the Black team as well, but did demonstrate his arm strength. At one point he scrambled and threw from his back foot nearly 30 yards before the pass fell incomplete.
For the Gold team, Austin Appleby, who was recently passed by Etling on the depth chart, was 6-for-18 for 52 yards and one interception.
“I thought the Black team's quarterbacks did a good job taking care of the ball,” Hazell said. “Limited with what we were able to do but was executed well.”
Hazell said he put plenty of limitations on both teams. Purdue fans likely got an answer on what type of team and schemes it will run. The Boilermakers were only allowed to run out of two-back or two-tight end sets on first and second down, hinting at the run-heavy offense Hazell implemented at Kent State.
Defensively, Hazell said he didn't allow them to blitz on first or second down and could only use one zone blitz per quarter.
For a game with plenty of limitations and places to answer questions, Hazell found some but still wasn't sure of the answer to how far they have to go.
“It was a good conclusion and like where we're heading,” Hazell said. “Competed tough and still have a lot of work to be done but the mindset and understanding is better.
“How far we are, I'm not sure.”