Purdue quarterbacks are pendulum of instability

Boilermakers remain inconsistent at key position

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IOWA CITY — Purdue’s football program carries the moniker “The Cradle of Quarterbacks.” The better-fitting label in recent times would be “Pendulum of Instability,” especially at quarterback.

The Boilermakers have fallen from erstwhile Big Ten competitor to league dormat over the last decade. Joe Tiller won eight or more games six times at Purdue, but beginning with his final season in 2008, the Boilers have derailed. Purdue has one winning season over the last eight years (7-6 in 2011) and owns a 32-66 overall record and 17-47 in Big Ten play in that span.

Mediocrity has given way to a competitive freefall under Darrell Hazell, now entering his fourth season. Purdue is 6-30 under Hazell and 2-22 in Big Ten play. Half of Purdue’s Big Ten losses have come by at least 20 points, while 17 were by at least 14. Not only have the Boilermakers struggled, they have done so in eyebrow-raising fashion.

One day after the regular-season finale, Hazell ousted both coordinators. But the real culprit in Purdue’s demise under Hazell — especially on offense — lies with quarterback instability.

In each of Hazell’s three seasons, he’s opened with one quarterback and closed the season with another. In 2013, holdover Rob Henry started the first five games before he was replaced with freshman phenom Danny Etling. In 2014, Etling opened the first five games, then sophomore Austin Appleby took over for the final seven. Last year Appleby started the first three, then freshman David Blough took over until he missed the season finale with an injury.

Etling, a fourth-year junior, transferred to LSU, where he’s competing behind Brandon Harris. Appleby, a fifth-year senior, is contending for a starting job at Florida.

Blough, a sophomore, is in his own predictable battle with true freshman Elijah Sindelar. Blough passed for 1,574 yards, 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions last year. He completed 57.7 percent of his passes and rushed for four touchdowns. Sindelar was rated one of the nation’s best pro-style quarterbacks as a high school senior in Kentucky. Sindelar enrolled in January.

“I don’t think it’s essential that we come out of spring football naming a No. 1,” Hazell said this spring. “David has taken the majority of the No. 1 reps and has done a nice job. But Elijah’s coming. He’s a young player that’s got a world of ability. A big arm. He’s got good enough feet to get himself out of trouble, and he’s still learning the speed of the game. They’re both good players. We’ll name someone pretty early in the fall camp probably and then go. But those guys are both capable guys.”

Purdue quarterbacks passed for 18 touchdowns and 16 interceptions last year. Among Big Ten teams, the Boilermakers were 12th in third-down percentage, 13th in yards per play and gave up the third-most sacks. The running game wasn’t helpful either, ranking last in yards per carry.

“This spring has been about learning the new system and making sure we simplify things so we can play faster and harder when the fall rolls around,” Hazell said.

If the Boilermakers fail to establish a quarterback this fall, nobody will be there when winter rolls around.

l Comments: (319) 339-3169; scott.dochterman@thegazette.com

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