CINCINNATI – You knew Purdue’s opener could be rough. But not that rough.
The Darrell Hazell era opened with an ugly 42-7 loss to Cincinnati. It was one of those games where just about everything went wrong.
“A rough start for us,” Darrell Hazell said after his first game as Purdue’s head coach. “We didn’t execute in all phases.”
Purdue entered the locker room at halftime with a glimmer of hope, only trailing 14-7 and lucky it was that close. But in the second half, it went from bad to worse.
Cincinnati tailback Ralph David Abernathy broke a tackle behind the line of scrimmage and ran into the endzone. Not too long after, Rob Henry overthrew 6-foot-4 receiver Shane Mikesky and Bearcat safety Adrian Witty took it 41 yards for a touchdown.
Running back Hosey Williams broke loose on a 30-yard touchdown run, then Tion Green—a running back not even listed on the depth chart—broke several tackles for another Cincinnati touchdown.
When it rains, it pours.
“It was frustrating,” senior quarterback Rob Henry said. “It was frustrating out there. Just trying to stay positive and stay poised was difficult. Especially when you make some of the throws I did out there.”
Henry made his first start since 2010, but struggled miserably. He completed just 18 of 35 passes for 161 yards and two interceptions.
Purdue’s offense posted only 226 yards—more than half of which came in the fourth quarter against Cincinnati’s reserve defense.
“I thought they did a great job,” Hazell said. “We knew they’d be a great football team coming in.”
Added Henry: “Coach Shoop and the coaches work hard, and that’s what makes it so disappointing, because we know how hard they work.”
The Boilermakers’ defense wasn’t much better. It allowed 425 yards to the Bearcats and faltered on third down, allowing Cincinnati to convert on nine of 15 third-down plays.
"It is definitely deflating as a defense anytime the ball is consistently moved on you," junior defensive end Ryan Russell said. "You have to build three or four good plays somewhere."
The unit’s struggles only worsened when senior cornerback Ricardo Allen left the game with an apparent high ankle sprain.
Cincinnati quarterback Munchie Legaux paced the Bearcats with precision passing, throwing for 145 yards and a touchdown, while the ground game added 225 yards and four touchdowns—those coming from four different players.
There weren’t many pretty statistics on Purdue’s side, as freshman running back Dalyn Dawkins led the rushing attack with 26 yards on four carries—mostly coming in garbage time. In his first game as the Boilermakers’ starting tailback, Akeem Hunt posted 24 yards on seven carries before leaving with dehydration.
One of the Boilermakers’ lone breaks came in the second quarter when Cody Webster booted a 73-yard punt which was muffed and recovered by long snapper Jesse Schmidt. That set up Purdue’s lone touchdown, a seven-yard run from Henry.
But Cincinnati capped the first half with a seven-play drive and a Blake Annen touchdown catch, giving the Bearcats a lead they would never let up.
“That was a big one, I thought,” said Hazell. “That was a big swinging point for them. They did a good job and we couldn’t get off the field defensively.”
In the postgame press conference, the questions turned to whether Purdue can win this season, as their new head coach has long suggested would be possible. Hazell continued to show belief in his team, even despite the significant thumping handed on Saturday.
“I think we have good enough players in our locker room,” Hazell said. “Obviously, we didn’t play that well in our phases. But we have enough good players in our locker room to get it turned around.”
The Boilermakers’ loss—namely, their avoidable mistakes—are more damning when you consider they’ve had more than three weeks of preseason camp to prepare for this game. But Purdue posted seven penalties, four turnovers—not including two on downs—and put the ball on the turf five times.
The best drive for Purdue came on its opening possession when it reached the five-yard line, but the offense then moved back 20 yards due to penalties and mistakes. Kicker Paul Griggs missed a 37-yard field goal.
So what does Purdue need to do in order to improve?
“Prepare,” Henry said. “Prepare harder. Be certain. Be influent with the plays and be certain about what we’re doing on offense. And then execute.”
Hazell remains confident his Boilermakers will rebound. But in order for that to happen, the team must stay poised.
“It’s very important that we stay the course,” said Hazell. “We’re not going to flinch. We’re going to go back and work, we’re not going to listen to what people say about us, and we’ll get it fixed—that’s for sure.”
Next up for Purdue is an Indiana State team which showed flashes in a loss to Indiana. For Darrell Hazell to get his first win, the Boilermakers will have to be a whole lot better than they were in his debut.
Flush this one and move on.