Special to the Tribune-Star
WEST LAFAYETTE —
One day after Danny Etling was named Purdue’s starting quarterback, he was focused on not showing his age.
“The team has worked too hard to have a kid back there playing like a freshman,” said the Terre Haute South graduate. “I have to play beyond my years.”
Etling relieved fifth-year senior Rob Henry late in the first half of Purdue’s 55-24 loss to Northern Illinois on Saturday. He earned the role moving forward after completing 19 of 39 passes for 241 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
“Danny Etling is the quarterback,” Purdue coach Darrell Hazell said after Wednesday’s practice, the first public announcement of the decision. “I thought he gave us a boost and is going to be a good player for us. I’m not going to say what was Rob’s undoing. I just think Danny made a nice surge in the last couple of weeks. We need a little bit of a jump-start right now.”
Hazell called Etling into his office around 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, telling him of the decision prior to team meetings. It’s been a challenge for Etling to keep his emotions in check.
“It’s a pretty surreal feeling,” Etling said. “It hasn’t quite hit me yet. I’m trying to be pretty casual about it and take it in stride, not be too high or get too low. I just want to keep trying to get better with each game.”
In the preseason, Etling was part of a three-person competition, with Henry and redshirt freshman Austin Appleby.
At times early in the preseason, Etling shared snaps with the first team, but later dropped down to the third team at one point.
“I had the freshman jitters when I was going through camp,” Etling said. “I might have been home sick or it might have been just being a freshman.”
Once the decision to select Henry as the starting quarterback was made two weeks prior to the season opener, coaches talked with Etling about some of his poor practice results..
“They said you’re too good to not relax and let your performances speak for yourself,” Etling said. “I kind of found the player I want to strive to be, so I’ve just kept working toward that. I think the more and more I keep playing, and the more and more I keep learning, I’ll get better.”
While Etling made several strides over the past few weeks, he was listed with Austin Appleby as a co-backup on Purdue’s depth chart for each of the first five games this season.
“I didn’t really have any clue that I was going to be going in,” Etling said. “We always try to prepare each week as if you’re going to play. I wasn’t really sure I was going to be going in there.”
Purdue should now have more potential to throw downfield with Etling as quarterback. Against Northern Illinois, only five of Henry’s 16 pass attempts traveled 10 yards or more in the air, and he completed just one of those.
Etling equaled that on his second pass attempt, a 10-yard completion to tight end Justin Sinz. It followed a 7-yard completion to Cameron Posey on his first play, as the two quick plays resulted in a 47-yard field goal with three seconds left in the half.
However, Etling threw four incompletions on Purdue’s first possession in the second half.
“I was a little too jacked up coming out of halftime,” Etling said. “I was really jazzed and probably sailed a few. I was really able to settle down and the line did a tremendous job of letting me relax out there.”
Hazell downplayed the chance of seeing any drastic changes in Purdue’s offense, “We’ll be running a lot of the same things. We’ll tweak some things, but the plays will be the same.”
Purdue (1-4) is in its bye week and will host Nebraska on Sept. 12. Hazell expects the Cornhuskers to “bring the heat” with Purdue starting a true freshman at quarterback.
“I’m sure they’re going to be bringing new stuff that isn’t on film,” Etling said. “I really need to work on making teams pay if they blitz and work on getting the ball out of my hands as quickly as possible.”
Etling will be given every opportunity to succeed, and Henry has already switched positions. He lined up as a safety during Wednesday’s practice, and he could play wide receiver if that doesn’t work, Hazell said.
Etling will play his first two games without starting wide receiver B.J. Knauf, who was suspended for two games by Hazell. The redshirt freshman was arrested for allegedly stealing a $20 tie bar from Kohl’s, according to a story in the Lafayette Journal & Courier.