When it comes to the quarterback position, Purdue has done stability about as well as it’s done success over the past two seasons.
Rob Henry was the starter at the outset of the 2013 season, but he yielded to Danny Etling and ended up playing safety in the middle of that season. Etling had the starting gig when last season began and started the team’s first five games. But Appleby took over and started the final seven.
It’s been one right after another for the Boilermakers. This preseason, it’s a two-man race for the job between Appleby and redshirt freshman David Blough. And as big of a question it is of who it will be and how he’ll do, the bigger question might be whether one of the two can win the job and hold it for the entirety of the campaign. It’s something Henry and Etling weren’t able to do. Will 2015 make it three straight seasons of instability at the team’s most important position?
Appleby — like Etling and Henry before him — didn’t exactly light the world on fire when he took over the starting quarterback job in the middle of last season. He ended up completing 52.9 percent of his passes for 1,449 yards. He threw more interceptions than he did touchdowns: 10 scoring tosses compared to 11 picks.
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As one might imagine, the flashes of brilliance came nowhere near often enough, leading to consistency being key for the junior this season.
"He's played a lot of football down the stretch for us, the last seven or eight games for us. And earlier he made more plays than he did than late. We just need him to be consistent when he's throwing the football,” head coach Darrell Hazell said last month during Big Ten Media Days. “If he can do that, he'll be our guy. And that's what we have to find out. He definitely has the moxie. He has the charisma. He has all those leadership skills that you like. But it really comes down to can you make the plays that are makeable."
Blough was rated a three-star prospect by Rivals and the No. 19 pro-style quarterback in the Class of 2014. The Texas native redshirted last season — the same fate expected for this year’s big quarterback recruit, Elijah Sindelar, who was the highest-rated commit in Purdue’s 2015 class. Blough has been splitting snaps with the No. 1 offense with Appleby during camp as the two battle for the job.
He’s been spending the offseason making improvements to better his chance at getting the starting role.
“There were a bunch of little things that we saw when I got live reps in the spring game,” Blougb said earlier this month when the Boilermakers opened camp. “Sometimes my footwork went out the window a little bit, I started drifting back and just was a little lackadaisical with it and just playing football. This summer, focusing on it, driving it home, repetition, repetition, repetition. There’s some positioning in the pocket stuff that I’ve worked on real hard. … (Offensive coordinator John) Shoop and coach Hazell, they told me exactly what I needed to work on. I did this summer.”
Certainly, Purdue would hope that one of these guys can kickstart a passing attack that ranked 10th in the Big Ten last season. But perhaps more beneficial to that offense would be the stability of one guy and no one needing to look over their shoulder. That might not be a part of the mindset of either Appleby or Blough, but it’s something worth addressing after the way the past two seasons have gone.
The Boilermakers will have a starting quarterback when they open the season at Marshall. Whether it’s the same guy who’s the starting quarterback a month later, two months later or by season’s end? Only time will tell.