- Mitch Sherman, ESPN Staff Writer
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The postseason Big Ten report cards continue with a review at the Purdue Boilermakers:
Purdue accomplished enough on offense to reasonably expect another win or two. But the Boilermakers simply didn’t make it happen with enough consistency. In fact, the consistency was downright poor. After mid-October, the offense went into a shell, reverting to the levels of its dismal 2013 season. So what happened in the three-game stretch against Illinois, Michigan State and Minnesota that raised hopes? Well, there was the newness of QB Austin Appleby and excellent balance. Purdue ran for 298 yards against the Gophers behind the big-play ability of Raheem Mostert and a nice effort by Akeem Hunt. Clearly, though, the offensive line couldn’t sustain that level, and the quarterbacks -- Appleby or Danny Etling -- were unable to shoulder the load.
It’s difficult to find one game outside of the win over FCS-level Southern Illinois in which the Boilermakers came close to a complete performance on defense. Individually, safety Landon Feichter, cornerback Frankie Williams and defensive end Jake Replogle showed nice improvement. But as a unit, coordinator Greg Hudson’s group didn’t give Purdue much of a chance. The Boilermakers, statistically, were bad against the pass (last in the Big Ten in opponent QBR) and the run, surrendering 194 yards per game. The Boilermakers blew a nine-point lead and the opportunity for a statement win in the final four minutes at Minnesota. A week later, Purdue surrendered a season-low 297 yards at Nebraska but still lost by three touchdowns. So it went all year.
Special teams: C-plus
Place-kicker Paul Griggs enjoyed an outstanding year, connecting on 16 of 20 field goal attempts, including all three attempts from beyond 50 yards. Thomas Meadows was serviceable at punter. Mostert, asked to handle a heavy load on offense, lacked the explosiveness on kickoff returns displayed early in his career. Returning punts, Williams made the most of 11 attempts, averaging nearly 16 yards. Purdue struggled in coverage, ranking 115th nationally in opponent starting position on kickoffs and 110th in opponent punt-return average.
Darrell Hazell continues to search for a breakthrough after two years in West Lafayette. He seemed to find it in October 2014 before the Boilermakers progressed in the wrong direction over the final month. Yes, the talent is lacking, but the Purdue coaches didn’t get the most out of what they had last season. The quarterback change from Etling to Appleby was likely the right move, though it failed to make a major difference. Where was the breakout year anticipated for defensive end Ryan Russell, and what happened to the 2013 production of receiver DeAngelo Yancey? Purdue also struggled with details such as third-down efficiency, kick coverage and creating turnovers.
One step forward, one step back. Midseason momentum evaporated, aided by the season-ending knee injury to receiver Danny Anthrop, who emerged as Appleby’s favorite target. But three wins in Hazell’s second year -- and a six-game skid to end -- just wasn’t good enough. In a double whammy to end the season, the Boilermakers failed in their bid to escape the Big Ten cellar with a 23-16 loss at Indiana in a game that could have left the Hoosiers winless in Big Ten play for the second time in four years.