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September 28, 2013

Is Etling No. 1?

Purdue's No. 1 question headed to its bye week comes at quarterback.

But how much of a question that really is seems in doubt, after Danny Etling relieved Rob Henry late in the first half of Purdue's 55-24 loss to Northern Illinois. And, in a lot of ways, the true freshman QB outplayed the veteran.

After the loss, in which Etling threw for 241 yards and two scores in the second half, Coach Darrell Hazell was asked whether the switch was permanent.

"I don' t know that, but we had to do it," Hazell said. "At that point in time we (had) turned it over down in the redzone and we thought we needed the change to give ourselves an opportunity.

"We'll evaluate that situation as well."

It might be difficult for Henry to reclaim his job. The fifth-year senior was largely off the mark in the first half, being incomplete on 11 of his 16 passes, throwing two interceptions and turning over a fumbled exchange from center.

Not all was on him - receivers couldn't get open at times, and his offensive line was spotty in pass protection, again - but he wasn't efficient, either.

The second interception was the one that did him in. On a 3-and-9 from the NIU 14, Henry flushed right and threw back in the direction of B.J. Knauf but the high pass was picked off; rather than the Boilers cutting the margin to two scores, it remained 27-7.

Henry said "everything" was going wrong.

"I need to get better, that has to be the mindset of the whole team," he said.

Etling gave the Boilermakers life early, hitting on a couple throws to put Purdue in scoring position for a long field goal just before the end of the half.

It was mixed in the second half, but overall the highly regarded rookie from Terre Haute proved he had a live arm, capable of many of the throws asked of him. Certainly, the 6-foot-3 QB showed good awareness and quick decision-making, with good velocity on his passes. But he had mistakes too, not uncommon for a debut, with a pick-six off a throw to the sideline and another interception.

Etling was also sacked three times.

"I've got to play better," Etling said. "I went in when we were down 20, and if you look at the final score, we lost by more than 20, so obviously I can't play like a freshman if whatever is going to happen happens. I've obviously got to step my game up, too many turnovers.

"I didn't play the best as I should have played. I've just got to play better, can't play like a freshman."

Etling finished the afternoon 19-of-39, for the 241 yards and he had a few scrambles, including an 18-yarder. The sacks dropped his net rushing down to nine.

His touchdowns were pretty, the first hitting Cameron Posey as the receiver streaked toward the left side of the end zone, catching the ball just as he slid out of bounds. The second was a dart to Justin Sinz from only a yard away.

"I felt more comfortable (later in the game)," Etling said. "I took too many sacks in my opinion - that wasn't bad offensive line play, it was bad quarterback play - I was stepping right into the sacks. (The line) is doing a great job, phenomenal. I can't do that to my linemen.

"When you're behind you're going to throw a lot more, so that's where those yards come from. I've still got to play better I believe and my teammates are really going to help me out with that. They supported me on the sideline."

Etling had already beaten out one teammate, having overcome Austin Appleby during the last few weeks of practice. During that span, Etling had taken a majority of Purdue's snaps with the second-unit.

"It's just based on practice on our evaluation of the quarterbacks," Hazell said of the decision to go to Etling at the end of the half.

Now, Purdue will need to decide who takes the snaps with the first-unit.

More notes

Cornerback Frankie Williams did not play due to a concussion suffered last week at Wisconsin.

He was replaced in the starting lineup by Antoine Lewis.

Hazell said Williams, who wore street clothes for the game, would be back on Tuesday or Wednesday for practice.

Jordan Roos, the backup right guard, also did not play. He has an ankle injury.

Defensive end Greg Latta didn't play in the second half after re-aggravating his hamstring strain.

Wide receiver DeAngelo Yancey had a near record-setting day.

Yancey caught seven passes for a 117 yards, the second best effort by a true freshman in school annals. Only Dorien Bryant's 131 yards in 2004 against Indiana was better.

"He's a great player," Etling said. "We're both freshmen and we have a good rapport with each other. He' s a hard-worker, such a great kid, he always finds ways to get open, he's always communicating on the sideline. He's going to be a great player for us."

The 55 points allowed was the most ever given up by Purdue in Ross-Ade Stadium, and most allowed in a nonconference game since Notre Dame scored 52 in 1983.

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