WEST LAFAYETTE – For nine months, all Darrell Hazell heard about was an inept offense, woeful defense and one measly win. Then the first four plays of the 2014 season resulted in negative yards on offense and an offsides penalty on defense.
Cue the cynics.
But three hours later, the first series was just a minor footnote in the Boilermakers' season-opening 43-34 win over Western Michigan at Ross-Ade Stadium. An offense and defense that ranked near the bottom of FBS in 2013 combined for a confidence-building performance to turn the page on last season.
“It's a great start for us,” Hazell said. “I thought our guys came out and played well. I'm proud of our football team. It's hard to win football games, it doesn't matter who we play. Our team responded and prepared well, and we were able to get the win.”
The victory snapped a 10-game losing streak and was Purdue's first win over a FBS opponent since 2012. The 43 points scored were the most in the Hazell era, surpassing 36 scored against Indiana last year in a 20-point loss.
Purdue tallied 402 yards of offense, including 251 rushing yards, averaging more than five yards per play. Running backs Raheem Mostert and Akeem Hunt totaled 224 yards on the ground.
“We established the run, which was our game plan,” said Mostert, who rushed for a career-high 146 yards and a touchdown.
“We came out and we wanted to punch them in the mouth with the running game. We came together on offense and wanted to get the job done. The run game was there for us.”
Hunt ran for 78 yards and a touchdown.
Preseason conversation centered on sophomore Danny Etling taking a big step toward etching his name into Purdue's “Cradle of Quarterbacks.”
But he took a backseat to his tailbacks in Game 1. Etling finished 19-of-38 passing for 181 yards with two touchdown passes. He also ran for a score.
The victory was Etling's first as a starter after going 0-7 last season.
“I think when we look at the film tomorrow there's going to be a lot of yards left out there, especially in the passing game,” Etling said.
“It's something we're going to work on and continue to get better at. There's a lot to improve on, but it's always nice to work on it after a win.”
Although Western Michigan racked up 456 total yards – freshman running back Jarvion Franklin recorded 163 yards and three touchdowns – Purdue's defense stood strong when needed.
Junior cornerback Frankie Williams picked off an errant Zach Terrell pass in the second quarter, retuning it 56 yards to the 4-yard line as Western Michigan was driving and already up 14-13. Etling scored a touchdown three plays later. Purdue then denied Western Michigan on two fourth-down attempts in the fourth quarter.
The Broncos were 5 for 17 on third-down conversions and 0 for 2 on fourth down. Conversely, Purdue was 7 of 17 extending drives on third down while converting one of its two fourth-down attempts.
“Those are huge plays in the game,” Hazell said.
“It's clock, it's allowing yourself to call more offensive plays, it's potential points – all those things. If we can convert on third down offensively and stop them on defense, that's the whole ball game. Third down is a critical situation.”
Landon Feichter, a Bishop Dwenger graduate, had a team-high eight tackles for Purdue despite not playing the first half after serving a targeting penalty from last season's Indiana game.
Williams' interception was just a fraction of his career day, which included two punt returns for 63 yards, seven tackles and two pass breakups.
“Frankie's interception resulted in seven points for the offense,” Hazell said. “If we can continue playing together, which we will, and get better together, which we will, we'll be a good football team.”