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Know thy Team 2008: Quarterbacks

Because I got to the Know thy Opponent series done early and I am not ready to make all my Big Ten picks, it means another new series for the month of August (and obviously late July). As we begin the walk-up to the season I plan on going through current roster area by area as a more in depth preview for visiting fans that stop by. I have had several other blogs contact me about deeper Purdue previews, so it is my hope that this will provide other fans who might stop by a deeper glance at the Boilers. As we go through this I am sure I’ll have several links to other blogs as I answer some questions for them as payback for all the hard work they did for me. I’ll likely be speaking to all 10 blogs that were kind enough to speak to me, so those links will be coming as they are published.

In the mean time, it is back to Purdue we ramp up to the season with the quarterbacks first.

The Starter – Curtis Painter, Sr. (5)

It’s hard to believe it has already been 8 years, but Drew Brees is still the gold standard when it comes to judging quarterbacks at Purdue. Few others, with the exception of Griese and Phipps, left Purdue with such decorated careers. Since Curtis Painter is approaching many of Drew’s career records he is certainly worthy of discussion when it comes to Purdue’s great quarterbacks. Barring injury, Painter will leave West Lafayette with 45 career starts (assuming we qualify for another bowl game), all of them in a row. This has given him a leg up on every other Purdue quarterback in the record book. Brees only started 37 games thanks to playing only sparingly as a freshman and an 11 game schedule. Many people forget that Billy Dicken had Brees as his caddy for a year, and Dicken had a pretty good season in his own right in 1997. He got an extra game against USC as a sophomore, but so did Painter as a sophomore against Hawaii. The extra nine starts will give Painter a boost, but he has played well enough in his career to merit that number of starts.

Lightly regarded out of Vincinnes Lincoln High School, few expected Curtis to be on the verge of breaking Drew’s records. He came in with a number of other quarterback prospects and immediately redshirted as a freshman. We then expected him to sit for two years while Brandon Kirsch took over, but that clearly didn’t work out. He was thrown into the fire early and had some success as an option-oriented quarterback, garnering five starts as a redshirt freshman in 2005. He had modest success in high school, leading the Alices to an 11-2 record and sectional championship as a senior.

The precedent is certainly there for the Boilers to have a successful season because of Painter. Purdue has had its most success under coach Tiller in such circumstances. In 1997 Senior Billy Dicken returned Purdue to the postseason for the first time since 1984 with a record-breaking campaign. He won nine games, including the Alamo Bowl, while breaking some single season Big Ten records and gaining first team all-Big Ten honors. The aforementioned Brees took the Boilers to Pasadena for just its second time, while Kyle Orton had Purdue thinking both Heisman and National title before The Fumble derailed everything. Had that play not happened it is hard telling how far Purdue would have gone. As it was, Orton did take Purdue to a New Year’s Day bowl the previous season as a junior.

While Painter may be the least heralded of those four guys, he could easily leave Purdue as the best statistically. By the end of the season Painter only needs 410 attempts, 267 completions, 3,030 yards, 37 touchdowns, and 3,591 yards of total offense to surpass Brees in all those categories as Purdue’s (and the Big Ten’s) best. Except for touchdowns, Curtis has easily put up at least those numbers in each of his last two seasons, so one can certainly expect he will do so again. Even in terms of total wins he already has 19, putting him close to Brees total of 24.

The only thing he truly lacks is a signature win over a "name" opponent. Notre Dame from last season is about as close as he can get, and it shouldn’t count because of the struggles the Irish faced. After that, Painter has a steady diet of wins over MAC opponents, 1-AA foes, and the bottom of the Big Ten. He has yet to beat a Big Ten team that finished with a winning record, conference or otherwise. For the 2008 season to be measured as a success this must change. Much of this has not been his fault. The 2005 and 2006 defense couldn’t stop the French Army. Even though Painter acquitted himself well in his first career start at Wisconsin in 2005 it didn’t matter because of the defense. He has had only one shot at Ohio State and Michigan so far, and played poorly in both. He played well at Notre Dame two years ago, but again, the defense did nothing to help him and we had a number of promising drives end without points. In other games we have lost it has often mean a team effort.

Painter did show improvement last season by drastically cutting down his interceptions, but two ugly ones tarnished an otherwise solid performance against Michigan State. Against Penn State we couldn’t finish drives that ended in field goals. Losses to Ohio State, Michigan, and Indiana were more a result of team-wide suck than anything.

Purdue will only go as far as Painter can take us this season, and the question there lies in an inexperienced group of receivers. Painter has demonstrated he can get them the ball, but will they be able to catch it? Purdue has also had success when its quarterbacks have been more mobile. Dicken, Brees, and even Orton as a senior knew when to tuck the ball and run. Painter ran well as a freshman, but hasn’t had much call to do since. Still, he has shown he is capable if necessary. Most people have simply forgotten. I am confident that as long as Painter stays healthy, the Boilers have at least a shot at a good year. Some are even talking about a Heisman season, but it would take a Big Ten championship for that to happen.

The backup – Joey Elliot, Jr.

I will give this to Elliott, he has been patient. Elliott came to Purdue as a guy who hoped to compete for the starting job in 2007 after Kirsch led us to successful campaigns in 2005 and 2006. Since this obviously wasn’t the case and Painter emerged as the Man, Elliott has patiently waited while others around him such as Jeff Panfil and Keith Smith have moved to receiver. The past two seasons have seen Elliott patiently bide his time on the sideline while Painter assaulted the record books. As a result, Purdue is in a situation much like 2004 when Orton was the clear starter, but an experienced backup who knows the system was waiting in the wings.

Elliott doesn’t have nearly the experience that Kirsch did then, but he has seen the field a handful of times with modest success. By far his best effort came last season in Ann Arbor where he led a pair of scoring drives against a disinterested Michigan defense that was already up 48-7. That may not sound like much, but considering how no Purdue quarterback has had nearly any success in Ann Arbor since Bob Griese it has to count for something. He was 12 of 19 in that game for 140 yards and a touchdown.

Elliott is not going to see the field this season in a starter’s role unless Painter gets injured, but if he does go down Elliott has enough experience and has been in the system long enough not to cause total and widespread panic. Elliott was in direct competition with heir apparent Justin Siller throughout the spring and emerged as the clear winner. He has a much more polished throwing motion than Siller, and I feel comfortable if Elliott were forced to start for a season in 2009 like Dicken did in Tiller’s first year of 1997 we can have success. Considering what Dicken did that year, I would almost prefer it. At the very least it will be nice for coach Hope to have a quarterback with some experience.

The future – Justin Siller, Fr. (RS)

Siller spent last season learning the basics, getting used to college football, and gaining strength. Many were ready to dub him the backup for 2008 after coach Tiller mentioned he could see some spot duty due to his athleticism. He didn’t have a great spring, however, and from what I saw in the spring game his throwing motion could certainly use some work. I am perfectly fine with him learning more the next two years before exploding on the scene in 2010 for what Tiller thinks will be a pretty good team. He may play a little this year, but likely only in blowouts like the Northern Colorado game.

Siller is clearly the best runner of the three, and that is why many fans are excited to see him develop. He’s the most athletic quarterback Purdue has had since Eric Hunter, but that isn’t exactly saying much. When he plays, Siller is expected to provide an element much like Kellen Lewis has done at Indiana. We’re a long way from that date, however.

The emergency guys – Chris Bennett, Jr.
Caleb TerBush, Fr.

Bennett has been in the system a few years as a scout team quarterback, so that is likely the most action he will see. My senior year at Purdue I was privileged to get a sideline pass and film the Michigan State game on senior Day for the TV show I was working on. In that game, a senior scout team quarterback by the name of Carl Buergler, who much like Bennett had run the scout team for years, saw the only game action of his career when he was called in to take the final few kneel downs. Seeing his face you could tell it was a thrill for him to finally make the field in even that diminished capacity. Because of who is in front of him, this is likely the only way Bennett will see the field barring an absolute disaster. Still, I hope he gets to see the field at least once in a role similar to Buergler as a reward for his hard work.

TerBush is most likely going to redshirt unless said disaster mentioned above manages to claim Bennett as well. Even then, Desmond Tardy is a former high school quarterback and has a couple of pass attempts with a touchdown, so he would likely be an emergency replacement ahead of both. TerBush is the tallest quarterback at 6’5", but was a late 2-star recruit out of central Illinois. He will likely stay in the system and learn as much as he can before seeing the field in 2010 at the earliest.