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Can Purdue protect its quarterback?

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Kickoff: Ohio State 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

Boilers set to face unbeaten Ohio State

Friday, November 1, 2013 - 5:44 am

Comfort in the pocket does not seem to be in Purdue quarterback Danny Etling's future on Saturday. Why? Because Ohio State and its sack-happy defense is coming to Ross-Ade Stadium.

The No. 4 Buckeyes have a Big Ten-leading 20 sacks. Purdue has allowed 10 sacks in its last two games.

Yes, that's a formidable Boiler challenge.

“We have to do a great job in protection,” coach Darrell Hazell said. “We have to get some help with our tight ends and backs. Hopefully we can give Danny enough time to get the ball out of his hands and get some open looks for him.”

Many of Purdue's sacks the last two games were due to Etling's inexperience (he's played in 2 games). Hazell has stressed that Etling has to do a better job of throwing the ball away if nothing is there.

“I've been working on footwork stuff, on moving in the pocket, but no amount of practice gets you ready for a game,” Etling said. “The games I've played in have been huge.”

Added Hazell: “Danny has done a good job of preparing and handling what (offense) we have in. He studies like crazy. He's going to be a phenomenal player for us.

“He's a guy who can make all throws and plays to get himself out of trouble. He made significant strides from his first game to his second in terms of stepping through the pocket, as opposed to bailing out. He's getting better.”

Starting as a true freshman is a big deal at any time, especially when it's at quarterback, perhaps the most glamorous -- and difficult -- of any position in any sport. It generates a significant amount of fame, although Etling said his on-campus attention is muted somewhat because, “You wear a helmet, so not as many people notice you.”

Of course, more people are noticing, even if Etling completes just 47.5 percent of his passes for 585 yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions.

“I was playing catch with students in Cary Quad,” he said about a campus residence hall. “I think they noticed me after I threw a few passes."

Purdue's defense could get a boost if safety Landon Feichter is able to play. The former Bishop Dwenger standout has missed the last five games with a broken leg, but has returned to practice. Hazell said whether or not Feichter will play will be a game-time decision.

Ohio State (8-0 overall, 4-0 in the Big Ten) is a 31-point favorite. It is positioned for a Big Ten championship and, perhaps, a national title. Purdue (1-6, 0-3) is trying to find itself in Hazell's debut season. The Boilers have the Big Ten's worst offense and second-to-worst defense. They play a lot of youth.

It would be easy to get frustrated over the losing and mistakes, but Hazell said the key is focusing on the big picture.

“The big thing for us is to stay the course and know that there's a plan. Then you have to work the play day-in, day-out. Don't get frustrated when things don't go as you planned. You can't deviate from the plan. You have to have a stability. You can't be turbulent.

“You have to keep your eye on what's going to happen when we get this thing flipped.”

Ohio State flipped the program back as soon as Urban Meyer took over as head coach last season. He's 20-0 as the Buckeyes head coach. That's a big deal even for a football program with so much tradition and success.

Hazell knows all about that. He coached Ohio State receivers for seven years. He's very close with former Buckeye head coach Jim Tressel.

Beyond that, Purdue linebacker coach Marcus Freeman is a former Ohio State linebacker.

But that won't mean anything Saturday.

“This is Purdue vs. Ohio State,” Hazell said. “It's going to be a fun game.”