Created on Friday, 30 August 2013 Written by JOE KAY, AP Sports Writer
CINCINNATI (AP) — Purdue turned to the Mid-American Conference for a coach to revive its stalled program, bringing in Darrell Hazell from Kent State. Cincinnati had little trouble luring Tommy Tuberville away from Texas Tech and the Big 12.
Both make debuts at their new schools on Saturday with a lot of questions about what they inherited and where they're going in their first seasons. There's a lot of uncertainty over how all the newness will play out on the field for the first time.
"I think we've made a lot of progress," Tuberville said. "But we've got a lot of work to do."
Same goes for the Boilermakers, who had to adjust to not only a new coaching staff but a whole new offense with a lot more motion.
"I think when you go into these types of football games there are a lot of unknowns," Hazell said. "I mean, their staff, our staff, how we're going to react in the games — all of those things are unknowns."
Five things to watch among all the unknowns:
EARLY VALIDATION: Nothing helps a new coaching staff gain the players' trust more than an opening win against a tough team. Purdue has a rough opening stretch — at Cincinnati, home against Indiana State and Notre Dame, at Wisconsin. Cincinnati opens with back-to-back games against the Big Ten — Purdue, then at Illinois. The game at 35,000-seat Nippert Stadium is sold out, which wasn't always the case for Cincinnati in the Big East. It's the Bearcats' first game as part of their new American Athletic Conference, which could get an early boost with a Cincinnati win.
"I kind of feel like they will look down on us because we're an AAC team now, and that's not the Big Ten or the Big 12 or whatever you want to call it," quarterback Munchie Legaux said. "It would gain a lot of respect from that conference."
For Purdue, it's about trying to get good enough to move up in its conference, and a win would help set a tone. "I think anytime you can validate the things that you're doing as a new staff, that's good," Hazell said. "That's good for your program, that's good for your players. So I think validation in this football game would be huge."
BOILERMAKERS' NEW O: Hazell installed an offense with a lot of movement. The first challenge was to get his players to move to the right place at the right time.
"It's a very unique offense," he said. "With all the shifting and trading and motioning, I think it creates issues. I think our guys are really starting to figure it out, how complicated it could be for defenses if we do the things that we're capable of doing. I really like where we are."
They'll get their first live-action test against a Cincinnati defense that's deep at linebacker but thin on experience in the secondary. Purdue has one advantage: Fifth-year senior quarterback Rob Henry won his job back after missing the 2011 season with a torn knee ligament and spending last season as a backup.
BRENDON KAY'S SHOULDER: The sixth-year senior was Cincinnati's incumbent starter heading into fall camp, but developed a sore passing shoulder that limited his practice time. Tuberville plans to use both Kay and Legaux, who lost the job to Kay midway through last season, in the game on Saturday. Kay is hoping Tuberville trusts him to start despite the injury. "I've been limited the last few weeks," Kay said. "That's under no one's control, really. I'm full-go this week and ready to play Purdue."
NEW COACHES: Hazell and Tuberville have been immersed in getting their new teams settled, leaving little time to think about their first time on the field.
"The first game every year — I don't care if you're a new coach or whatever — it's just that there are so many things you have to do and get done and the time goes by fast because you are very busy," Tuberville said.
Hazell knows the feeling. "I'll be fine, probably until Saturday," he said. "Typically, it's all about what do we need to do? And that probably takes away a little bit of that anxiety. But on Saturday, I'm sure there will be a little bit in all of us."
THE HEAT IS ON: After an unseasonably cool July and early August, the heat is back. Playing at noon on Saturday on artificial turf will stress players who went through camp in much cooler and less-humid conditions. "You know, when you get a hot day like this, on a turf that's probably going to be around 120 degrees," Tuberville said. "When we've been practicing on turf that's been around 90 to 95, it's a tremendous difference."