By CLIFF BRUNT
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Here we go again.
That was the thought that crossed my mind Saturday when Purdue quarterback Robert Marve foolishly threw a pass down the middle of the field that was intercepted and looked so forced that Eastern Kentucky’s Brooklyn Fox must have been, had to have been, the intended receiver.
This was Marve, the same guy Danny Hope said looks better than ever, the guy Antavian Edison told me on Media Day had matured and had better command of the offense.
And yet, after another of Marve’s gambles, I was left wondering if he ever would get it, if he ever would be the guy everyone thought he could be.
Then, he did it. For about three quarters, Marve was all that had been envisioned. He threw for a career-high 295 yards and tied a career best with three touchdown passes to lead the Boilermakers to a 48-6 win over the Colonels.
He completed 30 of 38 passes. He didn’t get rattled. He was efficient.
He looked like Florida’s Mr. Football, the stud who was going to turn Purdue around. He only started because Caleb TerBush was suspended one game for violating team rules. Now, he might start Saturday against Notre Dame because it makes no sense for him not to.
Marve capped his team’s second drive by rolling right and hitting Gary Bush in the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown. He later found Edison for a 13-yard touchdown, then hit Gabe Holmes for an 8-yard scoring pass.
After assuring all that TerBush was the starter heading into the season, Purdue coach Danny Hope made no such promises after Saturday’s game.
“We’re going to look at how Robert played and look and see how they practice over the course of the week,” Hope said. “We’re not going to make a decision today. We will look at it and make an assessment as a coaching staff.”
Let’s read between the lines here. TerBush was the starter heading into the season. Now Hope says he’ll watch and see. There wasn’t a decision to be made before. TerBush was the starter.
Whatever TerBush did, I hope it was worth it. While he served his suspension, Marve looked like a guy ready to carve out his place in Purdue’s Cradle of Quarterbacks. Purdue is talking big this season. Marve has the talent to take the team places.
TerBush might regret his mistake for a long time. When you’re in a battle for the quarterback job, you can’t give the competition freebies.
Rob Henry, the No. 3 quarterback but a former starter, had an up-and-down game. He missed all of last year with a torn ACL, and it was clear at times like he had been out of football for that long.
On his second carry, he showed the same dazzling speed as in 2010, the speed that made him the starter before last year’s injury. But he ended the run by lowering his shoulder into a defender. He fumbled and Eastern Kentucky recovered. Later, Henry threw an ill-advised pass down the middle that Fox intercepted.
Henry got a final chance to make an impression in the fourth quarter and went 7-for-7 for 77 yards on a scoring drive that ended with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Justin Sinz. But by then, the game had already been decided and Henry was clearly mopping up.
“It had been almost 20 months since I had been on the field, so it felt pretty good to be out there,” he said. “I was a little rusty at first, but on that last drive, I got into a little bit of a rhythm and kind of felt like my old self again.”
The problem for Henry is that Marve was his old self, too, and when Marve was his old self before, in 2010, he was the starter over both TerBush and Henry.
It would be easy to dismiss Marve’s performance on Saturday by saying it came against Eastern Kentucky, a Football Championship Subdivision program, but the Colonels have given Indiana, Louisville and Kansas State fits in recent years. Eastern Kentucky was considered a decent team.
For what it’s worth, Marve made one more mistake later, a fumble on his final drive. By then, the game was over and it was questionable why he was even still playing.
What he did in between the mistakes impressed Hope.
“He was accurate on most of his passes,” he said. “I thought his performance was pretty good for the most part. He has to be a more disciplined player and be more disciplined in the pocket.”
But Marve won’t always be disciplined. He has game-changing talent, and sometimes, people with game-changing talent take game-changing risks. There was a guy in Green Bay for years who was that way. His name rhymes with Marve. And no matter how many times he frustrated you, you knew he needed to have a little bit of gunslinger in him to be his best.
The key to the previous sentence was little. Marve needs to be enough of a playmaker to scare the defense but efficient enough to take what’s there.
He gets it now.