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'Experiment' won't cost Purdue's Webster

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Kickoff: Iowa at Purdue, noon, Saturday
RADIO: 1380-AM
TV: BTN

Online: For more on college sports, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at www.twitter.com/pdiprimio

Boiler punter remains 'bright spot'

Friday, November 8, 2013 - 5:49 am

In a football season to forget, Purdue punter Cody Webster is a man among boys.

And yet twice against Ohio State Rob Henry -- yes, THAT Rob Henry -- punted. He averaged 37.5 yards, with one going 44 yards.

Does that mean coach Darrell Hazell is thinking of replacing Webster, who leads the Big Ten in punting and who just won the Ray Guy Player of the Week award for his Ohio State performance?

Are you nuts?

Webster remains the Boilers' punter. His 44.8-yard average ranks 10th nationally. He averaged 49.5 yards on eight punts against Ohio State, which included ones of 67 and 73 yards.

This is the same guy who, a few weeks ago, was messing up enough that coaches put his backup in to work with the first team in practice.

Rather than mope or blame the coaches, Webster responded in a big way. In his last 14 punts he's averaged 47.5 yards, with seven ending up inside the opponent's 20-yard line.

“Cody has really been a staple for us this whole season,” Hazell said. “He's getting great punt location as well as hang time and has allowed our guys to cover the punts. He continues to be a bright spot for us.”

So what's up with Henry?

Coaches want to use the senior, whose attitude remains upbeat despite losing his starting quarterback position to true freshman Danny Etling. Henry has said he'll do whatever he can to help the team, whether that's play safety on defense or receiver/runner on offense. He's too fast, athletic and versatile to just stand on the sidelines.

And, yes, he can punt.

Hazell said they used Henry -- he lined up as one of the three blockers in front of Webster, then dropped to take the punt snap while Webster shifted wide -- as an “experiment.” Henry could punt, pass or run depending on how the opposition lines up.

“We'll always have a Rob Henry package,” Hazell said. “We thought if you can make teams prepare for other things, it takes away from preparing on some of the things they need to prepare for. It's something you try to put in other teams' heads, scheming things up for them.”

Saturday's scheming focuses on Iowa, which has lost three of its last four games to drop to 5-4 overall, 2-3 in the Big Ten. Purdue (1-7, 0-4) has lost six straight.

The Boilers' approach, Hazell said, means not dwelling in the past.

“You don't look back at your success. You don't look back at your failures. You look forward to see how you can get better.”

Iowa will come after Purdue with the run. There's little doubt about that. Iowa will not resort to offensive complexity. There's little doubt about that, as well.

“They play it close to the vest,” Hazell said.

In their first five games, which produced a 4-1 record, the Hawkeyes averaged 243.8 rushing yards. In their last four games, they've averaged 101.

The biggest reason for the running struggles was their competition. Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin have the Big Ten's best run defenses. All hold opponents to fewer than 100 yards rushing.

"At the end of the day, we're better if we're balanced and able to dictate to the defense what we're going to do," coach Kirk Ferentz said.

Run defense is not a Purdue strength. In just Big Ten games it gives up 291.5 rushing yards. It will help to have senior safety Landon Feichter. The former Bishop Dwenger standout has been out with a broken leg, but is expected to play Saturday.

“Iowa does a great job of running,” Hazell said. “They're going to run inside and outside in zone, play after play after play. They've got a good offensive line. They do a great job on their double teams. They're solid enough that they'll get 4 and 5 yards (every run).”

Despite the struggles, Purdue has had some better-than-expected performances. It pushed Notre Dame hard in a seven-point loss. It did the same thing in a 14-0 defeat at Michigan State. But it lost 56-0 to Ohio State and lost by 37 points at home to Nebraska.

Ferentz takes no chances with his preparations. Not with the Hawkeyes one victory away from bowl eligibility.

“We've got to be ready for a team that's playing at that (Michigan State, Notre Dame) level,” Ferentz said. “There are no easy days in this conference.”