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Published September 19, 2015
Purdue coach Darrell Hazell detected a big difference in his players' demeanor during their season-opening win. He noticed it again throughout this week's practices.
Now comes the hard part: Taking advantage of that new, more confident attitude and turning it into more wins.
"I think the validation is good for the players, because they need to know what they're doing is the right thing, because the coaches you know that -- you really feel like you're doing the right thing," Hazell said. "But for the players, until they get that validation, it's hard for them to understand. So it was good for the players to get the validation that we needed."
A year ago, most of these Boilermakers endured one of the worst seasons in school history, going just 1-11 and finishing in the bottom 10 of the entire Football Bowl Subdivision schools in scoring.
This year, things already look more promising.
Purdue (1-0) ended a 12-game skid against FBS foes, matched its victory total from 2013 and produced its highest point total (43) of the Hazell Era in the win over Western Michigan.
If the Boilermakers can duplicate that performance Saturday against another Mid-American Conference foe, Central Michigan (1-0), the Boilermakers would have their first back-to-back wins since November 2012.
Sophomore Danny Etling looks more comfortable at quarterback than he did a year ago. And yes, the defense held up long enough to protect the lead.
But the two most critical indications of a possible turnaround season are that Purdue rushed for 226 yards last week after finishing 2013 with just 805, and instead of getting rattled when things got challenging, the Boilermakers hunkered down.
It's a welcome change for Hazell and the Purdue fans, who are now eager to see if the Boilermakers can continue the progression.
"This is a confident football team right now. They really are," Hazell said. "I think a lot of their confidence comes with their work, and they've put the work in, and they understand how important the next game is."
Here are some other things to watch Saturday:
TACKLING THE PROBLEMS: Sure, Hazell liked much of what he saw last weekend. But the tapes also showed there's plenty of room for improvement, starting on defense. Hazell wants to see his defense apply more pressure on opposing quarterbacks and tackle better.
DAVIS' STATUS: Central Michigan struggled early in its opener before beating Chattanooga 20-16. One problem was that receiver Titus Davis, the Chippewas' 2013 MVP, left the game early after an undisclosed injury during a punt return. He's listed as day-to-day. If a healthy Davis returns this weekend, Purdue's challenge will be a whole lot tougher.
BREAKING AWAY: The biggest difference in Purdue's running game might be the punch provided by Raheem Mostert and Akeem Hunt. Mostert ran for 146 yards, while Hunt added 78 in the opener. Both also head into this weekend ranked among the top six kick returners in school history, with each having scored on a 100-yard kickoff return during their careers.
ON LOCKDOWN: Central Michigan's defense put on quite a show last weekend. Chattanooga gained only 23 yards rushing on 10 carries, and finished with just 29 total yards in the second half. The Chippewas are led by Justin Cherocci, who is seven tackles away from 300. They'll need to be every bit as good, and perhaps even better, against the rejuvenated Boilermakers.
TWO FOR THE SHOW: The Cradle of Quarterbacks certainly hasn't been The Cradle of Fast Starts recently. Purdue hasn't opened 2-0 since 2007 when Curtis Painter was the starting quarterback and Joe Tiller was the coach. And it's been almost a decade since Purdue last opened a season with two straight wins over FBS foes (Akron and Arizona in 2005).