Look, you can't put all the early-season blame on the shoulders of current senior safety Rob Henry, Purdue's first starting quarterback. You also can't throw too much of the burden on Danny Etling, the promising freshman who's learning along the way.
The struggles of the offense are much greater than just one man. It's an issue with the entire unit. But as the season progresses, the hope is that Etling will do the same. He has completed just 47.5 percent of his passes, going for 585 yards, three touchdowns and four picks. It's a relatively small sample size and hard to judge.
As for Henry, the struggles just became far too much and the switch was needed. He could've done so much more for the offense, but it just wasn't happening. Now, we see what the freshman can do.
What you can read from Etling is his on-field demeanor. At times, the adrenaline has gotten too high, resulting in poor decisions or missed throws. The freshman must temper his emotions and not try to do too much. This is all part of the learning process.
The ‘C' grade is an average mark—or good if you're Chris Emma—but it could be a lot better. Etling won't light up an opposing defense this year, but he can take strides toward being successful.
Running Back: F
By far the most disappointing part of Purdue's offense has been the non-existent rushing attack. Akeem Hunt was supposed to be the guy to carry the load for this offense, helping Rob Henry settle in. Instead, he has averaged just 3.7 yards per carry and still does not have a touchdown. In fact, the Boilermakers have just three rushing touchdowns, and none of those have come from a running back.
Purdue needs a lot more from Hunt. His 41.9 yards per game are simply not enough. If this trend continues, the Boilermakers would be wise to insert freshman Dalyn Dawkins into the starting role. Big, bruising back Brandon Cotton showed flashes against Michigan State before bruising his ribs.
Somebody has to produce at running back for Purdue. The play of Hunt needs to pick up. If not, Purdue must find a new solution.
The first grouping of Purdue receivers were adequate, but with the change at quarterback comes a shift at receiver. The Boilermakers' receiving core now features a trio of freshmen, Deangelo Yancey, Dan Monteroso and Cameron Posey, in addition to B.J. Knauf (now off his two-game suspension), Danny Anthrop and Gary Bush. The sample size has been small, but the results have been strong.
The receivers get a B- grade, which is far above the rest of the offense. Much of this is due to the spark the freshmen brought to the offense. Yancey is a rising star, while Monteroso and Posey have high potential, too. The flashes that Knauf has shown have been impressive; he must bounce back off the suspension.
As a whole, the receivers have been solid, but their best work could be in games ahead.
Tight End: C+
The unfortunate season-ending injury to Gabe Holmes was a bad blow to an offense that was already struggling, but the work in the passing game from junior Justin Sinz has done shouldn't go unnoticed. Sinz has 21 catches on the campaign, including a pair for scores. He has been a safety net for Etling and someone who creates mismatches in a defense—just the role asked in the passing game.
But at the same time, the tight end is part of the offensive line, which has struggled throughout the year. You can't look at just statistics; the tight end must be held accountable for blocking issues, too. Coach Gerad Parker has done a great job molding his tight ends, and this is certainly a rising unit. The ‘+' added to the grade represents the upside this group has.
Offensive Line: F
There aren't many excuses to be had for the Boilermakers' offensive line. It's a veteran-laden group that has struggled mightily, giving the rest of the offense little chance to succeed. A unit that has started four seniors should not have so many freshman-like mistakes.
There's a bit of a youth movement up front, now, too. The hope is that Jordan Roos and Robert Kugler can grow together in the middle, while Jason King can emerge as the answer at left guard. Frankly, much of the hope for the Boilermakers' future up front is with Denzel Ward, who's still months away from signing his letter of intent. The line's struggles will only drag on throughout the rest of the year.
Defensive Line: D
"If there's no pressure, I can stand back there and throw. We have to affect him, we have to do a better job with that." —Purdue defensive coordinator Greg Hudson, explaining the frustrations of the defensive line.
This quote came as Purdue was installing a new-look defense, featuring a three-man front and a new ‘Jack' linebacker position. The shifting of the defense was made to get more productivity from the entire unit; not just the line. But a unit with star power like Bruce Gaston and Ryan Russell should be doing more.
Now, Gaston is an end and Russell is playing the aforementioned hybrid linebacker role. Greg Latta will boost the unit when fully healthy, and freshmen Jake Replogle and Evan Panfil have given the unit a bit of a boost. But as a whole, the d-line has fallen well short of its expectations. This very well could be the Boilermakers' best units; instead, it's the greatest underachiever.
Purdue's linebacking core may be the unit that has taken the greatest steps forward this season. Will Lucas is among the team's leading tacklers, even though he started the season in a limited role. Sean Robinson and Joe Gilliam have been productive in their time on the field, bringing some energy to the defense. The greatest positives are in practice, where the young ‘backers seem to be improving each day.
Coach Marcus Freeman is the perfect leader for the Boilermakers' linebackers, bringing energy and enthusiasm to practice which drives the most out of his players. The unit's developments have been positive—about all you can ask for.
When you consider all the Boilermakers' secondary has been through, its success is impressive. It's a unit that was missing starters Landon Feichter, Taylor Richards AND Frankie Williams for much of the season, but has still managed to be efficient.
Sophomore Anthony Brown is Purdue's leading tackler, that after starting the season in a reserve role. He's tied with Richards, who has been battling injuries throughout the season. Leroy Clark and Antoine Lewis have been solid in their respective roles, offering some promise for the future. Coach Jon Heacock has gotten the most out of his players and that's reflected in depth.
Specialist Teams: B
Finally, we've reached the high score for these Boilermaker players. Hats off to you, Cody Webster.
As the Boilermakers' offense has struggled and their defense has failed to force field position, the specialists have kept Purdue in check. Webster has been one of the nation's best punters, a leading candidate for team MVP (for better or worse).
Purdue's gains in the return game have shown, too. It's a staple of a Hazell-led team, and Akeem Hunt has been a reliable returner. The only reason this unit doesn't earn an ‘A' is because Paul Griggs has continued to struggle, hitting just five of his 10 field goals. All in all, the Boilermakers' special teams haven't been bad.
This season has been miserable for everybody involved. A 1-6 start is far from what Purdue fans could have ever hoped for. But the reality is, Darrell Hazell wasn't left with much talent on his roster.
Purdue's new coaching staff deserves a ton of credit for its work this season. With an eye toward the future, the coaches have done everything in their power to make this team a winner—or at least push it closer toward that level. In practice, they have driven every ounce of passion out of their players, inspiring belief throughout adversity. Hazell has accomplished what seemed like an impossible task, keeping the locker room together.
This staff will continue to push these players, getting everything out of them. There will be tons of teaching moments, and these coaches can teach it well.