Kickoff: Northern Illinois at Purdue, noon, Saturday
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Purdue's quarterback hot seat finds Rob Henry in roasting mode. The offense ranks as the Big Ten's worst and blame follows the fifth-year senior like a shadow.
Speculation grows that if things don't change Saturday against Northern Illinois (3-0), if the Boilers (1-3) go into next week's bye with an offense that makes Michigan State look like a juggernaut, Henry is out and either redshirt freshman Austin Appleby or true freshman Danny Etling is in.
Is that fair?
Let's take a look.
Henry isn't in the Big Ten's top-10 in pass efficiency. He's No. 8 in passing yards per game (175.5) and 10th in completion percentage (56.3). He's thrown for three touchdowns and four interceptions. Even when he completes a pass, he reminds no one of, say, Peyton Manning.
Still, coach Darrell Hazell sees beyond the numbers. Purdue has, by far, the Big Ten's worst rushing attack, at 70.5 yards. That ranks 116th out of 125 major college programs. The pass protection is inconsistent at best. Henry is under constant pressure.
Case in point, last Saturday's Wisconsin loss. Henry was 18-for-36 for 135 yards and an interception against a punishing Badgers assault.
Hazell felt Henry's pain.
“I don't feel Rob took a step back. He's gotten better, but it's hard to be in that position.
“There was a play I stopped for the staff on Sunday and said, 'Would you guys like to be a quarterback in that situation?' You've got (Wisconsin defenders in the backfield) pretty quickly. The receivers were all covered. He didn't have an uncovered guy. I said, I don't know what quarterback would like that situation.
“Rob needs a little bit of help. We all need to be better, not just Rob.”
Translation: better blocking and better receiver route running.
“It's hard to run when you're not all on the same page or we're not blocking guys,” Hazell said. “Obviously, you can't protect as well.
“We're going to see a lot of man-to-man coverage because we didn't do a great job of beating one-on-one matchups (against Wisconsin), so we've got to do a good job of getting open so the quarterback can get us the ball.”
Purdue is last in the Big Ten in scoring at 15.2 points, which is 13.6 points fewer than the next worst scoring team, Michigan State. It is 12th in total offense, 12th in passing efficiency, 12th in red zone offense and, well, you get the point.
Hazell and offensive coordinator John Shoop want a diverse, balanced attack. So far, it's been more of a one-dimensional disaster.
“We wanted to give (some teams) fits, and we haven't done that yet,” Hazell said. “We wanted to be a ball control, controlled passing offense that scores lots of points, and we haven't done many of those things yet. We'll get it rolling.”
A big key is better offensive line play.
“A lot of it starts up front,” Hazell said. “It's hard to pass when you can't protect. It's hard to run when you don't have (offensive linemen) on the right guys. We've got to get those things fixed.”
Hazell addressed that concern with senior offensive lineman Devin Smith.
“I told him, you should be in the huddle when it's third and 1, and say (to the running back), run behind me and (left tackle) Kevin Pamphile. That's the mindset we have to have with some of our guys.”
Purdue faces a struggling Northern Illinois defense -- it ranks 115th nationally by allowing 491 yards and 33.7 points -- that let Iowa rush for 202 yards, that got punished by Idaho's option read attack and then got burned by highly regarded Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo for 450 passing yards and six touchdowns.
Could the Boilers try some of those approaches? Not necessarily, Hazell said. They can't be who they're not. They can't play outside their skill set or scheme.
“We can't confuse ourselves,” he said. “We can't put in plays that other people are running, because we're not good yet in the things we need to be great at -- running the zone play, running the power play, showing our base concepts in the passing game.
“You've got to be careful. Everything looks good on film, but if it doesn't fit your personnel and what you can do, it's not going to help.”
The bye week will give Hazell and his staff time for major evaluating of personnel, scheme and approach.
“That's what those weeks are for, to sit back and say, 'OK, where do we need to go from here?'
“Any type of progress is huge for this team. We need to have some success. We need to have some offensive success, defensive success, pretty early in the game. That's very important.”