FORT WAYNE – Purdue has a tough schedule, a new coach and an interesting season ahead of it.
Coach Darrell Hazell and his Boilermakers have answered several questions during preseason camp, but have many more to address on game day Aug. 31.
5 key issues
Quarterback can’t hurt Purdue : Senior signal caller Rob Henry seemed to pull ahead in the quarterback competition as camp went on for Purdue, but whoever wins the starting job, the standard will be the same. The Boilermakers need their quarterback to take care of the ball and manage the game.
Big plays downfield aren’t as important as keeping the team on schedule and avoiding turnovers.
Special teams must be strong: Purdue’s staff has emphasized the need for its special teams unit to be its best. The Boilermakers take a risk by putting their best starters on return and coverage teams, but at the same time put themselves in a position to win the field position battle.
If that strategy doesn’t work, Purdue will be at a serious disadvantage. Special teams must be crisp come Aug. 31.
Wideouts go from issue to instrumental: Hazell’s receiving corps was a concern in spring, but the group has picked up depth and talent through position switches and incoming freshmen.
The group has to be above average for Purdue to compete.
Physical play becomes a priority: Purdue has taken on an aggressive style on offense and defense this season, with tight formations and a smash-mouth offensive style and a defense that plays fast and is strong in pursuit. That has to remain the case when Purdue faces bigger, more talented teams like Ohio State and Notre Dame.
Survive and advance: Hazell and his staff can’t compromise on their long-term priorities for the program.
The Boilermakers are a mystery this season, and Hazell wants to win now. If that doesn’t happen, the team needs to be able to adapt, but not sacrifice its vision. The process should work, even if it doesn’t in Year One.
4 top games
Aug. 31 at Cincinnati, noon (ESPNU): The Boilermakers have a chance to make a statement with their first game against a team that went 10-3 last season.
Sept. 14 vs. Notre Dame, 8 p.m. (ABC, ESPN or ESPN2): Purdue had a shot at the Irish last season but slipped in crucial moments. Another shot at the national runner-up in a home game should be one to watch.
Nov. 2 vs. Ohio State, TBA: Ohio State has struggled in West Lafayette, and this will likely be the marquee Big Ten game for the Boilermakers.
Nov. 30 at Indiana, TBA: The in-state rivalry is always intense, and Purdue has a chance to win a third straight matchup against the Hoosiers in the final regular season game.
3 key returning players
Bruce Gaston, Sr., DT: Gaston will help shore up a line that lost second-round draft pick Kawann Short. He will be key to amping up Purdue’s run defense, which was one of the Big Ten’s worst last season.
Landon Feichter, Jr., S: The Bishop Dwenger grad was Purdue’s leading tackler in 2012 and a honorable mention All-Big Ten honoree by the media. He will be big in run and pass coverage.
Gabe Holmes, Sr., TE: Hazell said Holmes will need to catch at least 60 passes for Purdue to be successful. With a lot of tight end-heavy formations on tap, Holmes will see plenty of time – and targets.
2 new faces to watch
David Yancey, Fr., RB: While Akeem Hunt will get the bulk of the carries for Purdue, Yancey has made a big push during camp, and his preseason could put him at No. 2 on the depth chart.
Dan Monteroso, Fr., WR: Hazell had a couple defensive backs stop by his office this summer to tell him how good Monteroso was in player-run practices. While there’s a lot of depth at wideout, expect the 6-foot-3 Ohio native to break through.
1 indispensable player
Ricardo Allen, Sr., CB: Allen will be the heartbeat of the Boilermakers this season. He is a four-year starter and has a lot to prove as a senior. Allen expects to be on the field for almost every defensive snap this season, and if he can stay healthy, he will be one of the best cornerbacks in the Big Ten.