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Appleby vs. Etling: Can Either Save A Broken Program?

Does it really matter who starts on Saturday against Notre Dame?

Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

It only took two weeks for a quarterback controversy to rear its head again. Earlier today Coach Darrell Hazell announced that he has not named a starter for the Notre Dame game on Saturday. This probably could not come at a worse time, either. A new and improved Purdue was supposed to be 2-0 at this point with a convincing win over Western Michigan and a hard fought, but comfortable win over Central Michigan. Danny Etling, who closed last season with a strong performance at Indiana, was supposed to have solidified his role as the leader of the team. Speaking of the team, it was supposed to have shown just enough improvement that a statement win over the Irish heading in to the hiatus seemed at least plausible with a few breaks.

Now, we have this. Etling is struggling to throw even simple routes to open receivers, but he is hardly the biggest issue. The defense cannot tackle even MAC-level running backs, and an entire boatload of mental mistakes led to getting blown out at home by a Central Michigan team that barely beat the same Western Michigan team we had just beaten last year.

This program as a whole was supposed to have at least some confidence by now that things are going in the right direction. That confidence, which was there after week one, was flushed away on Saturday in three hours of terrible football. I think that is what hurts the most. Last year Purdue got blown out by a MAC team, but it was a really good MAC team that played a fantastic game. On Saturday, Purdue lost mostly because it could not get out of its own way or take advantage of multiple chances it was given to get back in the game.

Yes, the quarterback spot is an issue at the moment. Etling struggled in one of his worst games to date on Saturday, but Appleby still completed less than 50% of his passes and still has no game action aside from 4th quarter duty in blowout losses. Unfortunately, it probably doesn't matter which one of them plays right now.

Purdue is a completely broken program at the moment from the top down. We have an athletic director content to fill the coffers with checks from the Big Ten thanks to our long-standing association with the conference. Where in the Big Ten because we helped start it back in the late 1800's. It is not based on any sort of historical athletic prowess because, historically, we're the worst athletic program in the entire league. We have a coaching staff that is at least attempting to make changes and is owning up to mistakes, but it is working with young talent (seriously, look at the freshmen and sophomores on the two-deep) that is nowhere much of the rest of the Big Ten.

What you now have is the worst type of atmosphere around the program: apathy. We're the laughing stock of the Big Ten and maybe of the five major conferences in college football (Colorado is pretty bad in its own right), but no one seems to care. There isn't a real answer out there except to start winning football games, but Purdue enters almost every game at such a disadvantage that it becomes an impossible task.

Maybe that changes on Saturday. For whatever reason, Purdue has played Notre Dame well in each of the past two seasons when it has had no reason to do so. After looking about as awful against Indiana State as we did against Central Michigan the Boilers found a way to carry a lead into the fourth quarter against Notre Dame. It's going to take an even bigger effort this time around. Purdue has no business staying within 50 points of the Irish if it plays like it dead against Central Michigan. It doesn't matter if it is Etling, Appleby, or even Drew Brees under center. There are so many glaring issues elsewhere on the field that Breesus himself couldn't make a difference right now. If Purdue plays out of its mind and somehow beat Notre Dame it is the type of victory that can change the fortunes of a program, but it looks impossible.

Personally, I think Appleby gets the start. I think the fact that Coach Hazell did not name a starter means that the spot is up for grabs, as it should be. I do like Hazell and I think he has shown that those with the right attitude will play. It is a trait that would make a huge difference if Purdue had more talent. Even then, you're asking for a virtual unknown, who struggled against a Central Michigan team that was only trying to close the game out, to play the game of his life, and it may not matter anyway unless he has similar performances around him.