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October 2, 2013

Etling gets his chance

Purdue's offense needs a boost.

Darrell Hazell thinks freshman Danny Etling can provide that.

So Etling is the Boilermakers' new starting quarterback, Hazell said after practice on Wednesday. Etling replaces fifth-year senior Rob Henry, who was benched late in the first half in a 55-24 loss to Northern Illinois last week.

"I just think Danny has made a nice surge here in the last couple weeks in practice," Hazell said. "We needed a little bit of a jump start right now, and that's where we're going."

Etling was informed of the decision on Tuesday afternoon. He said he didn't have an indication before the NIU game that there was potential for a change and admittedly was a bit surprised when he was told to warm up against the Huskies.

But, now, there's no gray area.

He's the man.

Henry was working at safety on Wednesday, and Austin Appleby was getting the No. 2 quarterback reps.

"It's a pretty surreal feeling," said Etling, whose first start will be against Nebraska on Oct. 12 in Ross-Ade Stadium. "It hasn't quite hit you yet, until I go out on the field again. I'm trying to be pretty casual about it, taking it in stride, not be too high, not be too low. Just try to do my best and grasp everything we're going to be trying to put in the game plan and just keep getting better and improving each game.

"I'm just so happy to finally have the opportunity to try to go out there and help my teammates win a game."

Against Northern Illinois, Etling lined up in shotgun on 39 of his 48 snaps. Some of that could have been because of the circumstances with Purdue being in catch-up mode. Some, too, could have been to allow Etling to stand tall in the pocket and sling it around against a defense that wasn't blitzing and was playing mostly zone coverage without disguising.

Hazell said there would be no sweeping changes to the offense with Etling at the helm.

"We'll be running a lot of the same things," Hazell said. "We're going to tweak a couple things. I don't want to tip my hand. The plays will be the same and how we get them in might be a little bit different."

At least, with the bye this week, Etling will have a chance to gain some rapport with the rest of the first-team offense. He hadn't gotten many snaps - if any - with that group since the season started.

But he'll be in charge of running that show now, and he's eager for the rest of the group to get accustomed to his cadence and the passes he throws, he said.

It's the latter that could be interesting. During Wednesday's practice, Purdue's receivers dropped at least four balls from Etling, all on-target passes.

Etling's strong arm probably is his strength. But he also has good size and a strong frame. Quarterbacks coach John Shoop has raved about Etling's willingness to stay in the pocket and wait until the last moment to deliver passes, even with defensive players around him.

That'll probably be the approach opposing defenses start to take - crowd Etling as much as possible.

"People are definitely going to try and blitz me. They're going to say, 'He's a young kid and he probably can't handle it,' " Etling said. "I'm just going to have to really prepare hard to be ready to handle a blitz because I'm sure they're going to be bringing new stuff that isn't on film, and we're going to have to adjust to it. I'm sure the line is going to do a tremendous job of making sure they pick that up and helping me see it. As soon as we come on the sideline, I'm sure Coach Shoop will see it and tell me about it.

"I really need to work on making teams pay if they blitz you and really trying to work on getting the ball out of my hands quick and not taking sacks."

Etling, who has always been known as a player who spends significant time watching film, figures he'll have to ratchet that up even more now.

But he knows that's part of playing QB at this level, too.

And he's expecting to produce, despite his age and inexperience.

"I just hope to keep playing better. I can't play like a freshman, obviously," he said when asked about his expectations. "I think the team deserves better than that. Hopefully, I've worked hard enough to hope that it doesn't happen. The team has worked too hard to have the kid back there who is playing like a freshman. I've got to play behind my years, and I've got to keep going forward and keep improving. I know that my teammates are going to demand that of me and they're going to help me be successful when I go in there.

"The more and more I keep playing and the more and more I keep learning, each game, I think the better I'm going to get. Keep improving and, hopefully, everyone will be patient and I can continue to have success."

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