FORT WAYNE – Purdue coach Darrell Hazell thinks the Boilermakers game Saturday at Cincinnati might be one of the Boilermakers most important matchups.
That, he said, is because Purdue has plenty to prove.
I think we have a lot of good players in our locker room, but well find out here pretty quickly, Hazell said. If the players and the coaches see that you have some success, theres instant validation. Cincinnatis a team that has won a lot of football games in the last six or seven years, and theyve done a great job with their program.
The Bearcats went 33-6 under Brian Kelly from 2007-09 before he left for Notre Dame, and 24-14 for Butch Jones from 2010-12 before he left for Tennessee. But the core of the team remains, and new head coach Tommy Tuberville has plenty to work with in his home opener.
Who are you going to be? Hazell said. Are we going to be the team that you think youre going to be, or are you going to have to make tweaks during the first part of the game? I think when you go into these types of football games where there are a lot of unknowns.
Both teams have questions, but they loom larger for Purdue. Cincinnati might have a new coach, but it has won at least 10 games in all but one season since 2007.
Purdue has won more than eight games in a season just once in that time. So beating a team that has lost no more than three games a year for the past seven years would be an impressive start for Hazell and his staff.
Theres a lot of good players in their program. You watch their film, and they play with a lot of passion, Hazell said. Theyre going to play hard, I know that for a fact just watching the tape. I think theyve got a mature football team just listening to them. I think their communication between position to position makes them really special.
But Purdue, Hazell said, will play the same way.
The discipline and energy the former Kent State coach brought to West Lafayette in January began to show itself in the preseason. Purdue looked more energized and sharper at the start of camp.
And as time went on, the offense started to click. A team that prided itself on its defense started to look well rounded.
Now, the Boilermakers have to show those improvements.
Youre going to make mistakes in the first game, but we want to try to minimize those mistakes, Hazell said. If we can do that, I think well be in a good football game.
The play comes down to execution. Its about our execution at the end of the play regardless to what we call and regardless to what they lineup in. Its about what we do execution-wise.
This will be Hazells second kickoff with a new team in the past three years. He has gone through a trial by fire before. His first game as the head coach at Kent State was against Alabama.
This time around, he hopes for a better result than the 48-7 shellacking his Golden Flashes took from the Crimson Tide.
On Saturday, Im sure there will be a little bit in all of us, players, coaches, well have a little bit of butterflies in our stomach on Saturday as we get ready to kick it off, Hazell said. I feel much more relaxed, probably, by doing it for the first time two years ago. It probably help me relax a little bit more. But I feel like weve pretty much dotted all of our Is and crossed all of our Ts, and by the end of the week, we will have.