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Western Michigan Broncos at Purdue Boilermakers Preview: A Q&A With Hammer and Rails

With Western Michigan set to start their 2014 campaign in West Lafayette on Saturday, we asked our friends over at Hammer and Rails, the SB Nation blog for Purdue, a couple questions about this weekend's game.

Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

Hustle Belt: Year 1 of the Darrell Hazell experiment didn't go at all how Boiler fans could've hoped. Was there a sentiment that this was just part of the rebuilding process or are fans highly skeptical of Hazell's hiring now?

Travis Miller: A little bit of both, really. Hazell said and did all the right things going into last season, then the Cincinnati game happened. The whole season was a dud after that. We had seen a huge boost in season ticket sales and there were some real high hopes that last year was going to be an 8-9 win season before it started.

At the end I think we finally saw how big of a rebuild it was. Tiller-to-Hope was mostly a similar transition in terms of schemes and tactics. Hope-to-Tiller was a complete overhaul, and the players left over from Hope did not fit well. By the end of the year a lot of freshmen were playing and we certainly looked like it.

Look for running back Raheem Mostert. For three years he has primarily been a kick returner, but he is coming off of a spring where he was the Big Ten champion in the 60, 100, and 200 meters.

HB: When these two teams last met, it was in the Pizza Bowl where Alex Carder threw four interceptions, coughed up two fumbles, yet the Broncos only lost by 5 points with a chance to win it at the end. Now, both teams have new coaches and sat at the bottom of their respective conferences last season. What happened to Purdue?

TM: Danny Hope got one more year and failed miserably by juggling three quarterbacks and getting blown out in three big home games (Michigan, Wisconsin, and Penn State). Even then, one defensive play at Notre Dame and at Ohio State and Purdue goes 8-4 with wins over the only two undefeated teams in all of college football in 2012.

It mostly came down to the Wisconsin game. With Ohio State and Penn State ineligible, plus Illinois and Indiana being hot garbage, it was a de facto divisional title game. The winner would almost certainly represent the division in the Big Ten championship game. Purdue scored on the opening drive, then did very little the rest of the day. Once again, Hope's team laid an egg at home in a marquee game and that's when things turned.

Then you have last year. The offensive line was beyond terrible. The running game was the worst in the nation. The defense could play well for about a half, but would wear down because the offense left them on the field too long.

HB: Danny Etling came out of camp as QB1. How confident are you that he can get the job done as a sophomore in a league like the Big Ten?

TM: I am pretty confident because he is a solid player and is growing into the position. When we last saw him he threw for almost 500 yards and four touchdowns against Indiana (though we still lost by 20 points). Austin Appleby pushed him pretty hard and it was close, but Etling's experience likely kept him under center.

The biggest thing for him is the offensive line. Can they keep him vertical and give him time. He was sacked more than any other QB in the league last season and only played in seven Big Ten games. The poor guy was running for his life on almost every play and had no running game to help him at all.

HB: How good is this Boiler defense, and who are the guys to watch out for?

TM: I think it could be better, but again, the offense has to give them an opportunity to rest. Against Cincinnati, Iowa, Illinois, Notre Dame, and Michigan State last year Purdue was either leading or within a score at halftime. The defense played well for ahalf, but since the offense often got stuck in neutral (or worse) in the middle quarters the defense would completely run out of gas by the end of the third quarter.

There are two very promising freshmen in Ja'Whaun Bentley and Gelen Robinson that will debut on Saturday. Bentley earned the starting job at outside linebacker over Joe Gilliam, who is the most experience linebacker on the team. Robinson, Glenn "Big Dog" Robinson's other son is a fantastic athlete (two-time undefeated wrestling state champ, discus state champ, 4-star football recruit) that is projected to play at rush end, kind of a hybrid LB/DE position.He's not starting, but he will definitely play and many people are excited to him.

Both of these guys should be impressive players in the future and are expected to lead a completely rebuilt defense in a few years. For now, defensive end Ryan Russell (who had a pretty good Pizza Bowl if I recall) is back for his final season and a lot is expected of him.

HB: Besides Etling, what is the offensive key to victory on Saturday?

TM: We have to get a running game and the offensive line has to play better. Sacks were a gigantic issue last season and the only team in America that rushed for fewer yards than Purdue was Washington State, who runs a 5-WR spread that runs as an afterthought and tries to throw 60 times or more per game.

Look for running back Raheem Mostert. For three years he has primarily been a kick returner, but he is coming off of a spring where he was the Big Ten champion in the 60, 100, and 200 meters. Both he and Akeem Hunt need only a small sliver of space and they are gone. (and yes, both are returning kicks, with Mostert's first kick-six coming in the pizza bowl).

HB: Time to lighten things up. For any fans heading down to West Lafayette, where are some good places to hang out before or after the game?

TM: I always refer to this, as the GameDay Guide to West Lafayette. It has all you need to know.

HB: Prediction time! Who ya' got?

TM: It's a new season so I am drinking the hype. I think Purdue finds a way to actually win a game.

A huge thanks to Travis Miller (aka T-Mills) over at Hammer and Rails.  Check them out, they wont bite.  You can also see what I had to say about the Broncos for their questions.