Uneven performance for Purdue QB Danny Etling
INDIANAPOLIS – One drive late in Saturday night’s third quarter displayed just how up and down life can be with a sophomore quarterback running the offense.
Purdue’s Danny Etling, with Notre Dame nose guard Jarron Jones in his face, completed a 24-yard pass. The next play was a thread-the-needle job for nine yards. A three-yard toss picked up a first down. On the next play, Etling picked on ND cornerback Devin Butler, who had just entered the game.
And the Boilers were marching.
Just as quickly as it looked like Etling was setting into a groove and the Boilers might be able to slice into a 10-point deficit, things went south. First an overthrow. Then he threw behind a receiver with what, had Etling connected, been a big gain. On fourth down, Etling again was incomplete.
And the Boilers had stalled, their 10-point deficit to Notre Dame remaining just that in an eventual 30-14 loss to the Irish at Lucas Oil Stadium in ND’s annual Shamrock Series game. Eleventh-ranked Notre Dame improved to 3-0 while the Boilermakers dropped to 1-2.
"I think that we just didn't make as many plays in the second half is the main thing. I think we played hard. I don't think there's any dbout about that," said Etling, a sophomore from Terre Haute, Ind.
"I just think when we came down to it, we were driving down the field and had a few opportunities to make big plays in the passing game, and a few in the running game I thought. But we were well-blocked and we just didn't make those and that's something we have to do if we want to beat a team like Notre Dame."
Word of who would start for Purdue against the Irish didn’t leak until a couple hours before Saturday night’s kickoff, the mystery growing after Austin Appleby replaced Etling in last week’s Boilermaker loss to Central Michigan. In that game, Etling, a true sophomore, completed 17 of 32 passes with two interceptions, and it was after the second pick that he was yanked.
The 6-foot-2, 221-pound Etling, who picked the Boilermakers over offers from Colorado and Iowa, was a four-star recruit in Purdue’s 2013 recruiting class, and he played extensively in Purdue’s 1-11 season a year ago. Etling, who originally committed to Purdue when Danny Hope was the coach and stuck with the pledge after Darrell Hazell took over, appeared in eight games, starting the final seven.
He completed 149 of 267 passes with 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions as Purdue looked like it had its QB problem solved for the next three years as Etling was named the starter during fall camp.
Etling, however, struggled against Central Michigan as the Boilers suffered an embarrassing loss to a Mid-American Conference foe, and Hazell remained mum throughout the week, although his silence may have likely been more sending a message than it was an actual change under center.
"Well, I just thought based on practice, reps and those types of things, I thought he threw the ball as well as he had been in the offseason," Hazell said. "Just felt more comfortable."
The problems, it seemed, were more mental than physical.
“I’m probably trying to be too fine with it a lot of times,” Etling told the Lafayette Journal & Courier during the week. “Sometimes, when you’re trying so hard not to throw an interception, you sometimes throw an interception because of that. It’s counterintuitive, but that’s what happens a lot of the time. You’re trying to be too fine and you overthink everything and bad plays come out of it.”
Saturday night, though, Etling at times looked every bit as good as ND starter Everett Golson, who has crept into the Heisman conversation. Etling completed 12 of 14 passes, with two touchdowns, in the first half, before ND’s defense played a big role in leveling off those numbers. Etling completed 15 of 26 with two interceptions in the second half to finish 27 of 40 for 234 yards and the two touchdowns.
"Yeah, I definitely felt more comfortable," Etling said. "Good to have a lot of faith from my teammates and coaches throughout the week of practice. Just disappointed after the second half of that and I really think that we let it slip away."