The last time Darrell Hazell faced the Northern Illinois football team, the Huskies got arguably their biggest win in school history.
Hazell's Kent State Golden Flashes were on the losing end of a 44-37 double overtime game that put NIU in the BCS – a spot Hazell's team would have been in with a win.
Five days after the game, Hazell was officially hired to turn around a Purdue program, which has featured a run of mediocrity. Purdue was 22-27 in the last four years under former coach Danny Hope. Hazell was with the Golden Flashes for the school's first bowl game since 1972 – a 17-13 loss to Arkansas State in the GoDaddy.com Bowl.
NIU coach Rod Carey said he does see some similarities between Purdue this year, and last season's Kent State squad.
"Oh yeah, a ton. I mean, the way the team is put together is the biggest similarity. You can tell a coach has his imprint on it because it's – [playing] sound football on offense and defense, and in the kicking game and [trying] to give yourselves an opportunity through all three phases to win a football game," Carey said. "And you look at it, in all four of their games now, they've been right in it at the half. Until last week, they hadn't given up a point in the first quarter."
Three of Purdue's assistants came with Hazell from Kent State – linebackers coach Marcus Freeman, defensive backs coach Jon Heacock and running backs coach Jafar Williams.
Defensive coordinator Greg Hudson prepared for NIU last year as well – he was Florida State's linebackers coach.
During Purdue's weekly news conference Tuesday, Hazell said having a number of staff members who have prepared for the same offense before does help.
"I think any time you can see the same type of offense with the same personnel, it's an advantage," he said.
There's not a ton that's different about NIU's offense compared to last year, and it starts with Jordan Lynch, who Hazell was highly complimentary of. Hazell also said the Huskie offense hasn't missed a beat.
"They have an outstanding quarterback in Jordan Lynch, and he's the heart of that football team," Hazell said. "Everything runs through him."
Hazell said this year, Lynch's passing has stood out more.
"The only thing I see them schematically doing different is they're allowing him to throw the ball more off looks," Hazell said. "So if he gets a look and it's favorable to him, you can see him check, and he throws the ball outside, gets it out of his hands very fast."
PURDUE BOILERMAKERS (1-3)
Last game: Lost, 41-10, at No. 23 Wisconsin
Last meeting with Northern Illinois: NIU 28, Purdue 21 on Sept. 19, 2009
Key players: QB Rob Henry, RB Akeem Hunt, CB Ricardo Allen, S Taylor Richards, DT Bruce Gaston, LB Will Lucas
Observations: Purdue has had a lot of trouble moving the ball this season, as the Boilermakers rank 114th in the country in scoring offense (15.2 points a game) and 121st in total offense (246 yards a game). The defense hasn’t been much better. The Boilermakers give up 32 points a game, good for 93rd in the nation, and 416.5 yards a game (79th in the country). Purdue has been in all of its games at halftime.
Rod Carey’s take: “It’s a Big Ten team at their place on homecoming. It’s going to present every bit of a challenge that you want in a football game. We’re going to have to come out and play well to give ourselves an opportunity in the fourth quarter and be where we want to be.”
Key stat: Purdue has only 282 rushing yards this year. NIU quarterback Jordan lynch has 404.
– Steve Nitz, firstname.lastname@example.org, @SNitz_DDC