WEST LAFAYETTE — Purdue had plenty of areas to improve after its opening loss at Cincinnati. It had an FCS opponent in Indiana State coming to Ross Ade to showcase it wasn't as bad as it looked to open the season.
And it seemed like the Boilermakers were well on their way to erasing those memories when Akeem Hunt took a reverse on the opening kickoff 90 yards for an opening touchdown. Then the rest of the game happened.
Purdue may have won 20-14 over Indiana State in front of 50,165 fans Saturday afternoon, but there wasn't much improvement or many positive thoughts the Boilermakers will bring away from Darrell Hazell's first victory as Purdue's head coach.
“At the end of the day, we take it as a win-lose situation,” said cornerback Ricardo Allen, who's interception in the final minute sealed the victory. “This is a win business, and that's what we did. We're happy about that, but we know we have strides to make.”
Those places have a lot of similarities to what Purdue needed to improve on from last week, at least on the offensive side of the ball.
The Boilermakers struggled with communication early once again, twice having to call timeouts in the first half and having botched snaps because of players on different counts.
Purdue's offensive line also struggled to get a push up front again as quarterback Rob Henry was often forced outside the pocket. Henry finished the game 15 for 24 with 150 passing yards.
The rushing game had its moments, though, with Akeem Hunt getting 22 carriers for 89 yards, but when it mattered most Purdue was routinely shutdown. Most notably, the Boilermakers twice had a first-and-goal at Indiana State's 1-yardline in the first half stopped.
The first series Purdue tried to run the ball twice and was stuffed, then threw an incomplete pass on an attempted bootleg that was snuffed out.
Purdue handed the ball off to Hunt twice and Heny kept it on a keeper the second time around, and neither gained the necessary yard. To make matters worse, the series came at the end of the first half and without any timeouts remaining, Purdue couldn't get a field goal off in time and came away with no points.
Two trips to the opponents 1-yardline, three points for Purdue. Not how Hazell drew it up.
“That was very disappointing that we weren't able to punch it in, especially with our offensive line, got some veterans up there,” Hazell said. “We have got to do a much better job inside the red zone period, and especially inside the 5-yardline.
“We got opportunities to punch it in and make it a different type of football game. They're going to go away if we punch it in there a couple times, and we didn't, so we have to find out why, what was the reason.”
Purdue's defense did manage to show some improvements, at least for awhile. The Boilermakers built a 17-0 lead over Indiana State behind a defensive performance that limited the Sycamores to 39 yards rushing on 22 attempts. This included Indiana State only having five yards rushing after three quarters.
The defensive unit also had a stark change from Cincinnati in third and fourth down defense. After seeing the Bearcats convert 12 of 19, Purdue allowed Indiana State to convert on only four of 17. The Sycamores didn't even manage a third-down conversion until there was less than five minutes to play in the third quarter.
“Our coaches tell us every week go out there and do your job, you don't have to worry about anybody else, just do your part and be one of 11 for the defense,” linebacker Joe Gilliam said. “That's what we did today. Everybody was in their gap, we had movement and we did our job.”
Doing their job ultimately only comes down to one key stat: wins. Hazell admitted the Boilermakers have plenty of things they still need to correct and strides to make, especially before Notre Dame visits next Saturday, but he is also much more satisfied to go home after a win than a loss.
“I'm very happy, and I'll eat good tonight as opposed to last week,” Hazell said. “I've been very fortunate to be in this business for 28 years and there's been a lot of times you win ugly or lose pretty, but you learn to appreciate the wins because it is hard to win. Obviously we made it a little bit harder than we should have, but at the end of the year that still goes in the win column and you can make corrections, we'll make corrections.”
Dwenger grad goes down
Purdue defensive back Landon Feichter, a Bishop Dwenger graduate, left the first half with an apparent leg injury. He did not return to the game and was on crutches in the second half.
Hazell did not have an update on how serious the injury was, how long Feichter would be out or if it was even an ankle or knee injury. Feichter was already playing despite two broken hands.