Hazell stays positive as Purdue tries to fix problems that have led to tough season

Darrell Hazell dissects the same problems every week.

Too many turnovers, not enough third-down conversions or points and a defense that stays on the field far too long.

After spending two bye weeks trying to find solutions, Purdue's first-year coach isn't giving up on the 2013 season. Nope, he's trying to build a better program by digging in for the long haul.

"Some of those younger players are getting better each week and that's what you're hoping for, and right now we are playing a blend of older guys and younger guys and I think we are making significant strides," Hazell said Tuesday. "It's sometimes hard to see that from the outside, but you can see some little successes from within the program. I assure you, we are trying to win games this year."

Hazell is aware how discouraging the early results might appear to most fans.

Purdue (1-6, 0-3 Big Ten) has lost five straight, was shutout in its last game by Michigan State, already has made one quarterback change and now faces another daunting challenge when No. 4 Ohio State comes to town Saturday.

The stats are even more depressing.

Only three teams — Miami (Ohio), Florida International and Southern Mississippi — are scoring fewer points per game than the Boilermakers' 13.1, and Purdue's 15 turnovers are tied for third most in the Big Ten. The Boilermakers are last in the league in third-down conversions (29.5 percent), red-zone offense (62.5 percent) and red-zone defense (92.6 percent).

Fortunately, Hazell has a little experience with escaping this sort of tailspin.

In 2011, he took over a moribund Kent State program that hadn't posted a winning record in almost a quarter-century or reached a bowl game in nearly four decades. It looked like it would be more of the same when Hazell started 1-6 in his first season. Then, suddenly everything changed. The Golden Flashes won 15 of their next 19, the first division crown in school history and reached a bowl game last season.

That's the primary reason he landed at Purdue. So he's not about to panic now.

"It's going to take off; at some point in time, there will be that breakthrough moment," Hazell said.

Nobody is suggesting that Hazell's restoration project at Purdue will go as smooth or as fast as it did at Kent State.

But there are ways to make progress over the final month of the season.

Hazell spent the last week preaching the importance of ball security and getting the defense into the right spots.

Will it be enough to win a third straight home game against Braxton Miller and the Buckeyes (8-0, 4-0), who still haven't lost under second-year coach Urban Meyer?

"I think we really need to go out there and show what we can do and take another step forward," starting quarterback Danny Etling said. "I think this game can really be a meter to see where we stand against the best."

Hazell views the game another way.

He's hoping to see if the Boilermakers continue to make progress — something the patient and unflappable coach has been telling players for months.

And that, Hazell insists, will eventually lead to a turnaround no matter how disappointing things might look this season.

"You've got to keep pressing, you've got to keep going, and you can't be sidetracked on what you're trying to accomplish," Hazell said. "The bottom line is, we all want to win, and the most important thing is we keep working at some of the things that we can improve upon."