CINCINNATI, Ohio -- So what does it mean, this 42-7 downer of a Purdue football coaching debut?
In the big picture, not much.
In the short term, a lot of struggling and learning and, if it doesn't get fixed, losing.
Darrell Hazell lost the first game he was ever the head coach -- 48-7 at Alabama three years ago when he was at Kent State.
Cincinnati is no Alabama, but it ain't bad. The Bearcats return 17 starters from a 10-3 team, including a powerhouse offensive line and linebacker corps. They could very well open 11-0 before a December showdown with No. 9 Louisville.
But that's their issue.
The Boilers, as is VERY obvious, have lots of issues.
Where do you want to begin?
Let's look at defense and third-down conversion.
Cincinnati converted 9 of its 15 third-down situations. Some were long, some weren't, but they all took a toll, especially on a day when temperatures approached 90 degrees.
“It was tough,” linebacker Sean Robinson said. “We were working our tails off and then to have a missed tackle or a blown coverage or whatever happen, is tough.”
Added Hazell: “We missed a couple of tackles. They did a good job of getting the yards they needed.”
Let's look at Purdue's run game. Well, it didn't have one. The Boilers gained 65 yards on 22 carries. Without a running threat, the Bearcats defense attacked quarterback Rob Henry relentlessly.
“It's always important to establish a running game,” Hazell said. “Everything comes off our run game. We were so out of synch we couldn't get anything going. That's very frustrating. You have to run if you want to have some success.”
Let's look at run defense. Cincinnati rushed for 221 yards. It also passed for 204 in an impressive show of balance.
“Mistakes,” Robinson said. “That kills you on defense. Some of them might have been mental. Some might have been physical. We have to fix them.”
And then there was Hazell's No. 1 priority, which was taking care of the ball. Henry threw two interceptions (one was returned 41 yards for a touchdown), and could have thrown at least one more, but a Cincinnati player dropped one. The Boilers fumbled five times and lost two.
Henry was so upset at his performance that Saturday night he tweeted an apology to family, teammates, friends and fans.
Throw in the seven penalties, dropped passes, a missed field goal, botched route running and you get a performance nobody expected.
“We had some communication problems,” Hazell said. “That's where it all started. We were late getting out of the huddle quite a bit. Guys were moving around. We dropped the ball. We didn't execute.”
Much of the credit goes to Cincinnati, but Hazell's focus wasn't on that.
“They did a great job. They're a good team, but I'm disappointed in our lack of execution.”
Somewhere, you figure, former coach Danny Hope is smiling.
Purdue did have one positive note -- senior punter Cody Webster might be NFL ready now. He launched a 73-yard punt that resulted in a Cincinnati fumble and a Purdue touchdown (Henry's 7-yard run).
Other than that, it was Gold-and-Black misery
Today's grimness can become next Saturday's optimism if Purdue bounces back against an Indiana State team that got crushed at Indiana three days ago. The coaching cliché is teams make the most improvement between the first and second game.
Purdue will test that out.
Hazell arrived with championship aspirations. It took him two years to deliver that at Kent State, previously a Mid-American Conference doormat. Does this look like a longer project?
“I hope not,” Hazell said. “I don't think so. Sometimes those things kind of snowball. It's nothing we can't get it fixed. We can turn it around fairly quickly if we can fix those problems.”
And then ...
"It's very important we stay the course. We're not going to flinch. We're going to stay tight. We're not going to listen to what people say about us. We're going to go back to work and get it fixed, that's for sure."
It might not be a quick fix, but that's not the point. It needs to be the right one.