New faces in the Purdue backfield as season nears
Sophomore D.J. Knox, a special teams player in 2014, will start at running back Sunday. Freshman Markell Jones will be the backup.
With Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert, Purdue featured a hit-or-miss running game in 2014, creating some big plays because both backs possess speed. The Boilermakers missed other big-play opportunities when those backs misread the proper hole or gap to attack.
Incorporating lots of misdirection into this year's offense, coach Darrell Hazell predicts Knox and Jones will make game-changing plays because they have then knack to see openings.
Considering Marshall was 13-1 last season and relies on a high-powered offense, Hazell is eager to see if Knox and Jones can help the Boilermakers control the football.
Purdue was 3-9 last season, losing its final six, and is 4-20 in Hazell's first two seasons with the Boilermakers.
''It's very important to be able to run the ball on the road,'' Hazell said Tuesday. ''When we get those two backs in behind our line, they are seeing things extremely well. Those guys don't miss very many reads. That is where we are a better running football team.''
Among the 125 FBS teams in 2014, Purdue ranked 71st in rushing, averaging only 157.2 yards a game, which was 10th among 14 Big Ten teams. Hunt and Mostert combined for 1,478 rushing yards and nine touchdowns, and both are now gone.
Hunt had an 82-yard touchdown run last season, and Mostert added one of 69 yards, but neither sustained the consistency Hazell is seeking. He is looking for Knox and Jones to contribute lots of 10- to 20-yard runs this season.
Beginning in the spring, Knox has been the back that has impressed Hazell most.
''He has done a little bit of everything,'' Hazell said. ''His pass protection has gotten so much better. He gets out into pass routes very easily. He is able to make that big run because he stays on his feet, has that balance and has that power, all those things you are looking for in a good running back.''
Knox will be one of five Boilermakers making his first collegiate start.
''I would say I am an all-around back,'' Knox said. ''I understand that I don't have 4.21 40-yard dash speed. But I make up for that in other areas.''
Danny Anthrop, Purdue's leading returning receiver, is eager to see how Knox and Jones perform in their first opportunities to carry the ball in a college game.
''They provide a lot of physicality, and they are pretty well rounded,'' Anthrop said. ''There is a little bit of speed to them, but they also have a lot of power. They pass protect well and can be effective in the passing game, too.''