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Behind Enemy Lines: Hammer and Rails Discusses Iowa-Purdue Football

We talked to the guys from H&R to see what’s up with Purdue this season. Things might be looking up for OMHR!

NCAA Football: Purdue at Illinois Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

IT’S THE REAL HATE WEEK! Our Most Hated Rival is hosting us this weekend, which means that unlike against Minnesota or Iowa State, you can truly let the hate flow through you when Iowa plays Purdue in West Lafayette. Both teams come into this game with winning records, and you already know all about the Hawks. But wait! Purdue is coming into this game with a winning record, you say? Can’t be! I talked to Travis Miller of Hammer & Rails to discuss how Purdue got to this point, what to expect from this game, and how they feel about their head coach. Without further ado, let’s get to the questions.

Max: Purdue is 3-2 on the season! That includes a conference win! Are OMHR actually playing some pretty good football this season or is the record deceiving?

Travis: It can be hit or miss. Purdue has played a very weak schedule and, in my opinion, if they were as good as Iowa they would be 4-1 or 5-0. Cincinnati has looked like butt since beating Purdue and Maryland just wrecked us. That said, there have been some real moments of competence at times. Throwing out our FCS game, the run defense did really well against a strong running team in Nevada. It overcame four turnovers to win and really, we can’t be picky about any victory when it comes to Purdue football.

Last week was very surprising, however. I don’t know if it is a case of Illinois just being that bad (they might be), but Purdue showed a lot of heart in recovering from a terrible showing at Maryland to fix a few things against the Illini. The offensive line was horrid against Maryland, but did not give up a sack and blocked for over 230 rushing yards. The defense gave up 315 yards rushing, including 137 to a backup quarterback, but it got some critical stops and forced a huge turnover in overtime.

I think most Purdue fans had 3-2 at this point as kind of a bare minimum expectation given the competition. This week will tell us a lot more. Darrell Hazell has never won consecutive games at Purdue or even four in one season. Usually Purdue follows up a win by getting blown out. If they beat Iowa Hazell might, MIGHT be turning this thing around finally.

Max: David Blough is your quarterback, while two former Purdue quarterbacks have started for SEC teams this season! What's there to like about him and his performances this season?

Travis: Blough does his best work rolling out of the pocket. He throws well on the run and can run the ball a bit himself (67 yards and 3 TDs). His accuracy in the pocket needs work and his Cincinnati game with five picks was really bad, but he is performing about as well as a redshirt sophomore behind a shaky offensive line can perform.

In regards to the other two QBs, I think Etling left because he got spooked behind an even worse offensive line and Appleby saw a chance to play as a grad transfer and headed out. If Purdue had some of its other issues fixed we would likely be looking at Etling as a senior starter, but here we are. Blough is decent, and I think he will be fine if we can ever settle the line in front of him.

Max: Markell Jones is probably the most talented player on the Purdue offense, but he's been dealing with a shoulder injury for the past few weeks. Will he be good to go against Iowa? Who else should Hawkeye fans be wary of on both sides of the ball?

Travis: Jones is expected to play, but we had a pleasant surprise at Illinois from Brian Lankford-Johnson and Richie Worship. Lankford-Johnson is a very speedy, shifty runner who is the reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Week after going for 127 yards and a score. Richie Worship is a big, punishing hombre of a back at 6’1” 245 and he was impressive with 60 yards and a score against the Illini. He is a redshirt freshman coming into his own and he really dealt out some pain running the ball, especially after Lankford-Johnson left with a shoulder injury. All three should play and give Purdue a nice rushing trio.

Defensively Jake Replogle is quietly one of the best defensive tackles in the conference. His three older brothers all played at Indiana, but Jake might be the best of the four. He has had 28 tackles and two sacks, which is impressive for a defensive tackle. Purdue’s problems against the run are not his fault.

Max: Iowa's offense has been absolutely horrendous in all facets. In what ways might the Hawkeyes be able to get back on track against Purdue's equally as bad defense?

Travis: Run the ball. It really is that simple. Purdue has given up 711 yards rushing in two Big Ten games. It could not have been worse against Maryland even if it were playing with 8 players on defense. Against Illinois Purdue struggled to contain Chayce Crouch once he came in. Illinois’ best offense once he entered was the QB keeper and letting him create.

Purdue’s pass defense may look decent, but that is because Maryland did not have to throw and Illinois was playing a backup, run first QB. Just hand the ball off early and often and there will likely be acres of space to run.

Max: Darrell Hazell. It's very clear that Purdue has been very bad with him as head coach. What's up with his situation? Leaving this pretty vague, so please say anything and everything you would like about your most hated football coach.

Travis: It’s really complicated. There are rumors that he was nearly canned after the Maryland debacle and that, had Purdue lost at Illinois, he was gone. It’s not that Purdue has lost so many games under him, it is that the Boilers were getting absolutely boat raced by mediocre to bad teams in that time.

This season has been better by certain definitions of better. Instead of looking completely inept on offense like it did under John Shoop, Terry Malone has made the offense semi-competent. We can move the ball, but turnovers have been an issue (nine total against Nevada and Cincinnati). Purdue is converting on third downs and so far, as long as it doesn’t fall behind by multiple scores in the first 20 minutes, it has fought hard.

There are larger issues at work. We spoke about this last week, but the reality is that Purdue football lives in a welfare state because of the treatment it gets from the administration. The link there is to a letter I received from a former player and we also had the former editor at Gold and black Illustrated (our Rivals site and internal press organ) speak about how bad things are behind the scenes. When you see Illinois and Indiana announce massive stadium improvements, but Purdue still has no timetable for its Ross-Ade Renovation the perception is that the administration just does not care as long as the Big Ten checks flow in. We have some great plans for the future, but aside from the badly needed performance facility that is under construction those plans are merely pretty renderings on a computer screen.

The administration likes to say that they do not want to get into an athletics arms race. Well, by virtue of being in the Big Ten we ARE in an arms race whether we like it or not.

Max: Alright, prediction time. Who ya got?

Travis: I think last week was more of a showing that Illinois is really, really bad more than Purdue making a stunning turnaround. Iowa can still run the ball. That’s all they need to do to win easily. I am to the point with Hazell that he needs to show me an awful lot in the remaining 7 games to get me to believe in him again. Beating Iowa would be a step in that direction just because it would be completely unexpected.

Thanks to Travis for his time and insight! Of course, I hope the Hawkeyes throw a hundred points on your team. For more on Purdue football, check out Hammer & Rails’ blog and follow them on Twitter at @HammerAndRails. Go Hawks.