Created on Thursday, 31 October 2013 Written by MICHAEL MAROT, AP Sports Writer
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — It's reunion week for Darrell Hazell.
Suddenly, he's talking about some of his star pupils who went on to play in the NFL — Ted Ginn Jr., Anthony Gonzalez, Santonio Holmes, Brian Hartline and Brian Robiskie — and some of the guys he recruited still playing for unbeaten Ohio State. Luke Fickell is still on the Buckeyes coaching staff, and Hazell still hangs out with former Ohio State linebacker and Purdue linebackers coach Marcus Freeman.
The difference, of course, is that Hazell finds himself on the opposite sideline Saturday, trying to make life difficult for the nation's No. 4 team rather than trying to win one for the scarlet-and-gray.
"I would love to make some early plays," Hazell said. "That's the key. Come out, not do anything that shoots ourselves in the foot and give ourselves a chance to battle back and forth, because you know they are going to make their plays, and we've got to make our plays."
Hazell bluntly acknowledges this is not a game that exactly tugs at his heartstrings. He's not an alum and didn't play football for the Buckeyes.
It's also not the kind of game Hazell takes personally.
Rather, he speaks reverently about the six seasons he worked for coach Jim Tressel, the longest stop so far in his 27-year coaching odyssey, the players he coached and what he learned in Columbus, including the lesson of not getting too emotional about these sorts of games.
The same cannot exactly be said of Freeman, a lifelong Buckeye fan who finds himself in the awkward position of trying to upset his alma mater.
"I love Ohio State and I love the school, I love the people, I love the athletic department and I love everything about Ohio State," Freeman said. "But on Saturday, it's about doing what it takes to win. That's the profession we're in. ... It's going to be different. I haven't played against Ohio State, and I have not seen Ohio State play one time when I was not coaching or playing there, live."
Hazell and Freeman both understand this week's challenges go well beyond their Buckeye ties.
Ohio State (8-0, 4-0 Big Ten) comes into Saturday on a 20-game winning streak, leading the conference both in scoring and sacks and is out to produce a different result during this year's business trip to West Lafayette.
Purdue (1-6, 0-3), in contrast, has lost five straight, scored seven points in its last two games, has already changed quarterbacks and made a midseason switch from a 4-3 defensive front to a 3-4.
On paper, it looks as one-sided as it appeared in 2009 when the 1-5 Boilermakers stunned the 5-1 Buckeyes at West Lafayette. Ohio State has lost three of its last four at Ross-Ade Stadium.
But these are not the same Buckeyes.
"I would compare it probably closest to the 2006 team offensively when you had Troy Smith at the quarterback position, you had Teddy at one wide-out and you had Gonzo in the slot and Robiskie at one of the X's and Hartline coming off the bench and Beanie Wells and (Antonio) Pittman as the running back," Hazell said. "Offensively, that's what I would compare it to."
Ohio State also realizes what it's up against — a tough, determined coach who refuses to give up or give in regardless of circumstances.
Fickell, the Buckeyes linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator, saw it long ago when he was on the same staff as Hazell — and as he Hazell turn a moribund Kent State program into a Mid-American Conference contender in just two seasons even after starting his first season at 1-6.
"I think when he left here, I said the reason he'll be successful is because I know he knows what he's doing but more importantly he knows why he's doing it and he's not going to change on a daily basis," Fickell said. "The consistency of who he was and what he does, I think it's what you'll eventually see."
Boilermakers fans are hoping that combination pays big dividends this weekend.
Hazell does have one big advantage this weekend, unique insight into the Buckeyes roster.
That knowledge that could be helpful, but Hazell knows it will make more than knowledge to take down a team he helped build.
"There are a lot of players there that we recruited when I was there, so you know a little bit about the guys. Now they have gotten a lot better, just watching them on film, from the time that I left," Hazell said. "There's certain things that you can see on film that potentially could help you since being there a couple years ago. But they are so talented offensively, especially offensively, they are a very talented football team.