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Behind The Numbers: Austin Appleby Makes Strong Debut

Redshirt Freshman Austin Appleby threw for 68 yards and a TD in his first career action.

Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

The return of Behind The Numbers comes because there was something good to talk about late in the 38-14 blowout loss to Iowa. Austin Appleby, the redshirt freshman quarterback that has often been the forgotten man in the 2013 and 2014 quarterback derby saw the first action of his career and had a very successful debut. He completed five of his six passes on his only drive for 68 yards, including a 44 yard touchdown pass to Danny Anthrop.

Appleby has been the forgotten man for some time. He redshirted last season as the Nordfense rotated seniors Robert Marve and Caleb TerBush with Rob Henry. Quarterback classmates Aloyis Gray, Bilal Marshall, and Robert Gregory all switched to new positions, showing that Appleby has already won one QB derby, that being the 2012 recruiting class Derby of the Four QBs.

Coming into this season Appleby had some experience, but Rob Henry was the senior with all the experience and Danny Etling was the hot new recruit everyone wanted to see. Early on it looked like Appleby had won the battle to be Henry's backup, but when coach Hazell pulled a struggling Henry against Northern Illinois it was Etling, not Appleby that came in.

Appleby is already in a derby next year, as it will likely be a battle between the now incumbent starter Etling, Appleby, and another hot young QB in David Blough, whom many hope is a Drew Brees clone.

That is why getting Appleby at least SOME playing time was critical on Saturday. Etling is clearly learning by fire this season, but has shown some nice flashes with 819 yards passing and four touchdowns. The porous offensive line means that Etling is always one hit away from an injury, however. That injury almost happened in the fourth quarter when Etling got rocked on a screen pass.

I am not saying that Appleby is better than Etling. I do think he deserved at least a small look and time to develop because he is likely going to be the top backup that may be needed at a moment's notice over the next couple of seasons. If Etling is truly The Man then it makes sense to have Appleby at No. 2 next season and redshirt Blough so he has three years to develop while losing on two years of eligibility. That means Saturday was the "get the backup experience in case we need him" moment.

If Etling is not The Man, then all the more reason for Appleby to get some time to showcase his talents. It is still very early for both quarterbacks since both are freshmen in terms of eligibility, but here is what we now far: Etling and Henry have now played roughly equal amounts. Here are their stats:

Henry: 81 of 152, 832 yards, 4 TD, 6 INT

Etling: 75 of 156, 819 yards, 4 TD, 5 INT

The two could not be closer in terms of their actual production. Henry has the higher completion percentage, but Appleby, in a much smaller sample size, but has a completion percentage of 83%.

Of course, there are other factors. Appleby was playing behind the offensive line of redshirt freshmen that should be playing instead of the crappy seniors that are currently playing. Appleby was also playing the Iowa backups. The TD came on a play where Anthrop made a nice move in one-on-one coverage, so much of the credit can go to him.

I don't expect a quarterback controversy the rest of the season and there shouldn't be. Etling was moved into the No. 1 slot by merit and hard work after being the No. 3 guy for most of camp. It is good that Appleby got some time, however. It shows that the 2014 competition is not over and Purdue has a nice emergency option if needed.