WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) — Purdue football and big plays rarely were used in the same sentence in 2013, when the Boilermakers struggled to a 1-11 season, averaging only 14.9 points and 67.1 rushing yards per game.
As Purdue prepares for its second season with coach Darrell Hazell, familiarity with the offensive system and several backs and receivers who appear to have made big strides have him eager for Saturday's 2014 opener against Western Michigan.
Running backs Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert, along with wide receivers DeAngelo Yancey, Danny Anthrop, Gregory Phillips and B.J. Knauf should give sophomore quarterback Danny Etling the playmakers he needs in what will be his eighth career start but first in a season opener.
Purdue expects Western Michigan, also 1-11 last season, to blitz frequently with as many as five defenders. Hazell believes his offense has the skill and knowledge now to beat the pressure after Etling was sacked almost twice a game last season.
"Not only in the short passing game but in the running game," Hazell said of how the Boilermakers can counteract the Broncos' blitz. "A run game also can beat blitzes."
Etling, who passed for 1,690 yards and 10 touchdowns as a freshman, has impressed his head coach during preseason camp.
"It is a state of mind for Danny," Hazell said. "He understands that. He realizes he hung onto the ball a little too long last year. He has corrected that. I have all the confidence in the world that he will take care of the ball, and he has also learned that a great play may be a throw away because of a little bit of pressure. He is going to have a phenomenal day on Saturday."
Listening to Etling, it is obvious he is eager.
"I am very excited," Etling said. "Yet you also want to be very calm at the quarterback position. You have to keep your cool. It's a very mental game as far as the quarterback position is concerned. You want to keep that poise and your cool.
"You want to establish the run, but we have a lot of weapons on the outside. There are different things I can do with that. That is the nice thing about being a little more spread out this year."
Senior defensive end Ryan Russell likes the way Purdue's offense has played in the three weeks leading into the opener.
"Raheem talks a lot about being a Big Ten track champion, and he will bring that confidence in that he is ready to have a big year in the return game and in the run game," Russell said. "Danny Etling has grown more confident, is sitting in the pocket better and is more poised."
Western Michigan, which lost its first eight games before winning at Massachusetts, will counter with returning starting quarterback Zach Terrell and wide receiver Corey Davis. Terrell passed for 1,602 yards and eight touchdowns last season, and Davis caught 67 passes for 941 yards and six touchdowns in 2013.
Other things to watch in the game:
IT'S A DATE: For Purdue, the Aug. 30 opener ties the earliest in school history. The 1998 Boilermakers, who were led by quarterback Drew Brees, also opened the season on Aug. 30, losing at Southern California (27-17).
GOOD IN HOME OPENERS: Purdue will be gunning for its 11th consecutive victory in a home opener. The Boilermakers are 16-1 in their 17 most recent home openers.
FAMILIAR FACES: Second-year Western Michigan head coach P.J. Fleck and second-year Purdue coach Darrell Hazell were on the Ohio State coaching staff in 2006.
BIG TEN FLAVOR FOR BRONCOS: Western Michigan, 0-3 all-time against Purdue, is opening its season against a Big Ten Conference opponent for the seventh consecutive season and for the eighth time in the past nine years.