By CLIFF BRUNT
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — There is no quarterback controversy at Purdue.
Rob Henry is the guy.
Disgruntled fans were calling for Henry to be replaced after he struggled in the season-opening 42-7 loss to Cincinnati. The senior completed just 18 of 35 passes for 161 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions.
Coach Darrell Hazell noted during his weekly news conference on Tuesday that Henry hasn’t played in a while. His previous game with significant action was Nov. 27, 2010 against Indiana. He missed the next season with a torn right ACL, then played sparingly last season behind Caleb TerBush and Robert Marve. It made sense that he was a bit rusty on Saturday.
“I think that you have to give Rob an opportunity to go back into the position,” Hazell said. “The guy has not played for a couple years. I understand that the fans are probably a little upset, as we all are, but I think you have to have a little bit of patience with him and for him, and then at the end, they will be happy about Rob Henry’s play.”
Hazell didn’t let Henry off the hook, though. He said little things hurt Henry’s performance against the Bearcats.
“Our communication from Rob to the rest of the guys in the huddle is probably the No. 1 thing — didn’t allow us to get lined up as fast as we can and to execute, and he wasn’t as on as we had seen throughout the course of camp,” Hazell said. “So he needs to be a little bit more accurate, and get us in and out of the huddle a little bit quicker.”
Hazell said he believes Henry is still adjusting to the West Coast offense.
“I think he’s got to be able to take exactly what they give us,” Hazell said. “And we have open guys, he’s got to hit those open guys. And he’s got to be able to facilitate the ball to the guys that he’s got — he’s got playmakers around him and he’s got two good backs right now and he has wideouts that are really starting to come, and he has the tight end (Gabe Holmes) that in my opinion is going to be a great weapon for us. He’s got a good offensive line so he doesn’t have to feel like he has to win the game. He’s got to get the ball dished out to all those people around him, and then we’ll start seeing the chains move, and that’s what we need, we need him to have plays so he can make plays.”
For those who still aren’t convinced that Henry is the right guy, here are some things to consider.
The two players behind Henry on the depth chart, Austin Appleby and Danny Etling, are freshmen who probably would have fared no better if they had played against the Bearcats. You also don’t want to subject an unprepared freshman to a hostile environment too soon. It might not be worth it to rattle his confidence too soon.
I also don’t believe in throwing seniors under the bus in favor of a freshman unless the freshman is Johnny Manziel. With all due respect, Appleby and Etling aren’t Johnny Football. Good players, but not Heisman contenders.
Purdue’s most similar situation to this came back in 2005. Brandon Kirsch was a talented junior who had starting experience. Waiting in the wings was a talented freshman named Curtis Painter.
Kirsch put up numbers in Joe Tiller’s system, but made crucial mistakes at times and struggled to connect with the deep ball. Tiller, known for being hard on quarterbacks, benched Kirsch and went with Painter after the sixth game. Tiller felt Kirsch was never going to “get it,” and Painter’s upside was significant enough to warrant the risk.
Painter’s first start was at Wisconsin. It didn’t go well, but he got better. Again, he was worth the risk. He had a rocket launcher for an arm. He was mobile, and at 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, he was as strong as an ox. They don’t make too many like that. Like him or not, that’s why NFL teams keep signing him. Painter went on to have a record-setting career at Purdue. He threw his share of interceptions and struggled with injuries late in his career, but it was easy to see at the end why Tiller made the move.
I don’t know if Etling or Appleby have the goods to replace Henry right now. And I think it’s too early to yank Henry because he has the potential to be a good quarterback. I do know this: it will take getting to a point of no return to make replacing Henry a good option. Even when Tiller replaced Kirsch, he waited until Game 7. You also don’t want to give the impression that you’re playing for next year too soon or the entire team could check out.
If you do replace Henry, which freshman do you play? And do you burn a redshirt year? And what happens to the one who doesn’t replace him? He might transfer. Is it worth that possibility?
So, to be clear, Henry is the guy, and it doesn’t look like that is changing soon. And that’s the right move.
Left tackle Kevin Pamphile said the team still believes in Henry.
“It was a lot of pressure towards Rob,” Pamphile said. “A lot of guys were a little frustrated, but we’ve still got faith in Rob. He’s our captain, he’s our quarterback, he’s our leader. We’ve got faith that he’ll show up Saturday prepared to beat Indiana State.”