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Purdue (0-0) at Cincinnati (0-0)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, August 31, 12 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Nippert Stadium (35,097) -- Cincinnati, Ohio. Television: ESPNU. Home Record: Purdue 0-0, Cincinnati 0-0. Away Record: Purdue 0-0, Cincinnati 0-0. Neutral Record: Purdue 0-0, Cincinnati 0-0. Conference Record: Purdue 0-0, Cincinnati 0-0. Series Record: Purdue leads 1-0.
GAME NOTES: Tommy Tuberville and the Cincinnati Bearcats will take on Darrell Hazell and the Purdue Boilermakers at Nippert Stadium, as each coach begins their reign at their respective schools.
Hazell was the head coach at Kent State over the last two seasons and led the Golden Flashes to an 11-3 mark and into the national rankings for a short time thanks to his successful approach on offense. Hazell is going to bring that type of mentality to the Boilermakers, who despite making back-to-back bowl appearances, haven't had more than eight wins since 2003. Last season under Danny Hope the squad went 6-7.
Tuberville is considered by many to be a legend in the college coaching ranks. He has been a head coach at high profile schools like Ole Miss and Auburn and was at the helm at Texas Tech the last three seasons. With a 130-77 career record and 7-3 mark in bowl games his resume speaks for itself. Tuberville has less of a challenge ahead of him than Hazell as he is taking over a team that has double-digit wins in five of its last six seasons. That included a 10-3 mark last season after which then head coach Butch Jones took the opening at Tennessee.
In the only other meeting between these programs, Purdue outlasted Cincinnati, 19-14, in a battle at Nippert Stadium in 2001.
It took some time but Hazell finally named his starting quarterback at the end of fall camp. The winner was fifth-year senior Rob Henry. Henry has thrown only 200 passes in his career and has completed 53.5 percent of hose attempts for 1,212 yards to go with 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Henry isn't the only newcomer to a starting position. The Boilermakers will also be breaking in a new running back and a slew of receivers. Akeem Hunt rushed for 335 yards and a pair of scores in a backup role in 2012. Hunt was impressive in the spring but is undersized. Hunt is also dangerous in the return game as he averaged 22.2 yards per kickoff return last season including a 100-yard touchdown return against Ohio State.
Gary Bush, who caught 41 passes for 360 yards and seven touchdowns, is now the most productive receiver and the only player on the roster to have more than 30 receptions last season. However, Bush is listed lower on the depth chart than a number of promising underclassmen like sophomore Shane Mikesky and freshman B.J. Knauf.
There are eight starters back for the defense for Purdue but All-Big Ten defensive tackle Kawann Short isn't one of them. Bruce Gaston started alongside Short last season but didn't have nearly the same level of production, as he failed to record a sack and had just 5.5 tackles for loss. Ryan Russell, who had four sacks to rank second on the team, will be back at defensive end.
Leading tackler Landon Feichter (80 tackles, four INTs) was impressive at safety last year and will be looked on to take an even larger leadership role.
At linebacker three different players return with starting experience, including Will Lucas (66 tackles), Joe Gilliam (57) and Sean Robinson (27 tackles). The trio of linebackers were part of a group last season that ranked 11th in the Big Ten in total defense (416.2 ypg) a number the unit will look to improve on under Hazell.
An interesting quarterback competition unfolded for Cincinnati last season and carried into the offseason. Munchie Legaux began last year as the starter but was supplanted by Brendon Kay later due to inconsistent play. Kay threw for 1,298 yards and completed 63 percent of his pass attempts with 10 touchdowns to just two interceptions.
Currently Kay is listed as the No. 1 option on the depth chart, but Tuberville has still not officially picked a starter as Kay has been limited during practices with a sore throwing shoulder.
The turbulence at quarterback last season was overcome by Cincinnati in large part because of the rushing ability of George Winn, who picked up 1,334 yards and 13 touchdowns. Ralph David Abernathy Jr. has the unenviable task of replacing Winn. Abernathy had 366 yards as the backup last year.
The most important skill position holdover for the Bearcats is on the outside in the form of Anthony McClung. He didn't turn many heads with his numbers on paper (34 receptions, 539 yards) but with the rest of the receiving corps, including the tight end spot, made up of mainly untested players, McClung will be leaned on heavily.
Under Tuberville the Bearcats will be utilizing a 4-3 front on the defensive side of the ball. That is the same formation they favored a year ago under Jones. It makes sense that Cincinnati wouldn't change much as the team was solid on defense, ranking second in the Big East and 14th nationally in points allowed (18.5 ppg), the team's best mark since 1995.
The strength of the unit is at linebacker where Greg Blair anchors a group that has plenty of experience. Blair racked up 138 tackles, 9.0 TFL and a pair of interceptions en route to a first-team All-Big East selection. Nick Temple and Florida State transfer Jeff Luc strengthen the group.
In the secondary cornerback Deven Drane and safety Arryn Chenault both are solid in coverage and in making plays on the ball, especially Chenault who had a team-high three interceptions.
The defensive line is less of a certainty with defensive tackle Jordan Stepp, who had just 1.5 sacks last season, the only returning starter.
Although each of these teams is breaking in a new head coach, their tasks ahead of them are different. Hazell is inheriting a largely underachieving program and an unproven team, while Tuberville just needs to keep the Bearcats going at the same pace as last season in the new American Athletic Conference. The Bearcats' talent on both sides of the ball should provide a sense of continuity that the Boilermakers just don't have.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Cincinnati 30, Purdue 20
08/28 10:46:59 ET
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