WEST LAFAYETTE - Purdue concluded its spring football season Saturday afternoon with the Black team winning 14-0 over the Gold team. It marked the end to new head coach Darrell Hazell's first four weeks of practice with the Boilermakers and a chance to see what questions were answered and which ones may not have been.
How will players respond to Hazell as a head coach?
All indicators seem the team has responded extremely well. Hazell has been detail-oriented and a welcome change for most of the returning players compared with Danny Hope.
“It was a lot more up-tempo; there was a sense of urgency every day (this year compared to last year),” quarterback Rob Henry said. “I mean, part of that was because it was a new system, and we all had to learn it and rep it and just the overall demand. I know specifically from (quarterbacks) Coach (John) Shoop that was placed on the quarterbacks was something that we all needed and something that really helped us progress during the practices we had this spring.”
Hazell has brought a culture change that extends outside the practice facility. The optimism is there: Season ticket sales have already increased as Boilermaker fans sense the excitement.
Who will win the starting quarterback position?
This got a little bit of answer but still hasn't been cleared up. With Henry, freshman Danny Etling, redshirt freshman Austin Appleby and potentially even redshirt freshman Bilal Marshall, this was one of the hot topics coming into spring practice.
It seems to be a two-man race after Saturday, but the starting quarterback won't be named until about two weeks before the season opener against Cincinnati according to Hazell. Henry and Etling have put themselves in a two-person contest to earn the start.
Henry was 6 for 9 for 75 yards with one touchdown, and Etling was 5 for 7 for 54 yards with one interception Saturday. These numbers put them ahead of Appleby, who struggled by going 6 for 18 with one interception and 52 yards.
Henry seemed the most confident of the quarterbacks Saturday, but Etling is a promising freshman and demonstrated his own arm strength. Hazell wouldn't indicate who was in the driver's seat after the game, simply saying it's a “battle.”
Will Hazell bring his run-heavy offense to Purdue?
What is often referred to as the “Cradle of Quarterbacks,” Purdue became known for its pass-happy attack under Joe Tiller, and Athletic Director Morgan Burke indicated he wanted to keep this strong tradition under center moving forward.
Hazell, however, was known for his Kent State team's punishing ground game.
On Saturday, Hazell kept the offense in its base set on first and second down, which meant a two-back or two-tight end offense. It appears Purdue will run a lot more this season.
The Black team had 30 rushing attempts and 21 passing attempts, and the Gold team had 24 passing attempts and 14 rushes. It should be noted, though, that the Black team had the Boilermakers' pre-emptive top running back and top quarterbacks in Akeem Hunt and Henry and Etling.
If nothing else, it seems like Purdue will at least be balanced on the offense.
Who will play at linebacker?
On the defensive side, linebacker had a glaring hole for Purdue. There wasn't much of an answer Saturday. None of the linebackers popped out as having played an exceptional game.
Of all the linebackers to play Saturday, Joe Gilliam led them in tackles with four. Will Lucas with and Collin Link had three each, and Tylor Foster and Evan Pulliam had two tackles each.
Hazell didn't elaborate on whether any clarity had come to this position, or any position, after the game.
Will this be the season tight end Gabe Holmes finally breaks out?
Holmes has lots of promise and repeatedly has been looked at as a guy who could be a game-changer for Purdue. Routinely, though, he has struggled to live up to his potential.
If Saturday is any indication, look for a big season from the senior. He seemed to be a favorite target for Henry and Etling, and he caught four passes for 74 yards.
Holmes found holes and used his large frame to gain yards after the catch. Now, he just needs that production to translate to Saturdays in the fall.