Updated: October 1, 2013 6:52AM
fter all the buzz and enthusiasm he has generated, all the good will he has engendered, Darrell Hazell finally will coach his first game for Purdue.
The Boilermakers’ season opener at Cincinnati represents an opportunity for them to make a statement from outset.
The Bearcats, too, will be trying to make an impression under a new coach, in Tommy Tuberville.
Unlike Purdue, which announced Rob Henry on Aug. 18, Cincinnati had yet to name a starting quarterback. Both sixth-year senior Brendon Kay and senior Munchie Legaux are expected to play for the Bearcats against the Boilermakers.
Legaux went 6-2 as the starter last season — completing 120-of-230 passes for 1,716 yards with 13 touchdowns and nine interceptions, and rushing for 335 yards and four touchdowns on 55 carries — before Kay took over the job. Kay then went 4-1 as the starter — completing 87-of-138 passes for 1,298 yards with 10 touchdowns and two interceptions, and rushing for 306 yards and two touchdowns on 48 carries — including being named MVP of the Belk Bowl in Cincinnati’s win over Duke. Kay had been atop the depth chart earlier in training camp this season before he was slowed by a sore shoulder, and indications toward the end of this week were that he could get the nod to take the Bearcats’ first snap.
“We’re going to play our defense, and we’ll play our base defense and get into some of our blitz packages,” Hazell said. “But we’re not going to prepare for both. We understand that if we’re in our right gaps, and we stay over the top of the deepest receiver, we’ll be in good shape.”
Middle linebacker Greg Blair — one of three talented starting linebackers, with the group also including Florida State transfer Jeff Luc and Warren Central graduate Nick Temple — spearheads the Bearcats defense.
Purdue has won back-to-back season openers, and eight of its last nine, with that lone loss coming in 2010 at Notre Dame. The Boilermakers are 74-45-6 all-time, including 11-25-3 on the road. Purdue coaches are 18-16 in their debuts, including 2-9 on the road.
Purdue won the only previous meeting between the schools, 19-14 at Cincinnati on Sept. 2, 2001, also a season opener.
“Always in the first game, who are you going to be?” Hazell said. “Are we going to be the team that you think you’re going to be, or are you going to have to make tweaks during the first part of the game? … Their staff, our staff, how we’re going to react in the games, all of those things are unknowns. … You’ve got to adjust in the first half and try to win it in the second.”
Key player: Rob Henry. Well, we’ll go to the well right away, as the fifth-year senior makes his first start at quarterback since the 2010 season.
Purdue will win if: The Boilermakers minimize mistakes — a point of emphasis from Darrell Hazell (and probably all coaches) since he took over the program — execute, and along the way hit a couple of big plays (their offense is probably a bigger question mark than their defense at this stage) while limiting Cincinnati’s.
Cincinnati will win if: The Bearcats feed off the sellout crowd, expected to be a Nippert Stadium record, and get the better of play on both lines (Purdue’s defensive line against Cincinnati’s offensive line could be the premier matchup, with each unit a strength for the respective teams).
Prediction: Cincinnati 24, Purdue 21