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Emergency Quarterbacks in Purdue History

Aidan O’Connell is the latest in a line of emergency quarterbacks at Purdue.

Purdue v Michigan State Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Drew Brees. Bob Griese. Mike Phipps. Kyle Orton. These are just some of the beloved members of the Cradle of Quarterbacks at Purdue. No schools has thrown for more yardage in the NFL or started more games than Purdue.

The post is not about them.

Instead, this post is about the unsung heroes. Like Aidan O’Connell this coming week at Northwestern, these are the emergency quarterbacks has turned to over the years when it been out of options. Some made only very brief cameos. Others had runs of varying success. All were guys that we were not expecting to see pretty much at all.

Aaron Banks - 2015 - The disastrous 2015 season stumbled to 2-10 with a third straight loss to Indiana. By the end of the year David Blough had won the starting job, but was out with a concussion for the Indiana game. Elijah Sindelar was a true freshman that would have burned his redshirt (under the old rules), so he was also being held back. Austin Appleby made the start as the only healthy, non-redshirting scholarship quarterback on the roster, with Banks, a walk-on as the backup in case Appleby had to leave for a play or two. Of course, that is what happened. Banks came in and completed a four-yard pass for the only play of his career.

Sean Robinson - 2010 - Robinson finished his career as a solid middle linebacker, but he originally came to Purdue as a dual-threat quarterback. His true freshman season was in 2010, and no one expected him to see the field, but that is exactly what happened because Purdue suffered a run of worse quarterback luck than this season. Caleb TerBush was suspended for the season and Robert Marve sustained a second ACL tear against Toledo. Rob Henry was forced to start as a redshirt freshman, but nearly had a finger ripped off at Ohio State. Justin Siller (a player that will appear on this list in a moment), was also injured while playing wide receiver and would later “start” against Michigan before getting injured yet again.

That left Robinson as a true freshman thrown to the wolves. He technically only started against Wisconsin, but he threw every pass against Illinois when Purdue stupidly played Henry and Robinson in the backfield at the same time alternating snaps, but it was obvious Henry was never going to throw. He also played the rest of the Michigan game when Siller aggravated his injury. Robinson threw for 301 yards and 2 touchdowns against 6 interceptions while completing 48% of his passes over a handful of games.

Justin Siller - 2008 - Joe Tiller’s final season was supposed to be a grand sendoff with senior quarterback Curtis Painter. Instead, Purdue stumbled to 4-8. It also suffered a rash of quarterback injuries. Painter injured his shoulder and backup Joey Elliott also injured his shoulder against Northwestern. That left the freshman Siller, who made a memorable start against Michigan with both teams sitting at 2-6. Siller threw for 266 yards and 3 TDs while rushing for 77 yards and another score in the memorable 48-42 win over the Wolverines. It was a virtuoso performance and at the time we thought he would be the quarterback of the future. He finished the season with 496 yards and 3 TDs passing and 167 yards and 2 TDs rushing.

It would never work out. Siller was kicked out of the entire university for 2009 due to an academic scandal, but worked his way back to play mostly at receiver in 2010 and 2011. In 2010 he was technically a QB/RB/WR, but only played three snaps against Michigan after the first four games of the season. He caught 62 passes for 578 yards and 2 TDs as a senior in 2011 and completed the only pass in his final two seasons for five yards in the Little Caesar’s Bowl against Western Michigan.

Chris Bennett - 2008 - Like Banks above, Bennett was the emergency walk-on forced to play due to a minor injury. With both Elliott and Painter out at Michigan State, Siller was mostly flying solo. He had to leave the game with a minor injury and Bennett filled in for three snaps, making a single rush for five yards.

John Reeves - 1995 and 1996 - Reeves was often he No. 3 man behind Billy Dicken and the immortal Rick Trefzger, but played extensively enough to accrue more than 1,000 yards passing and 7 TDs against 11 interceptions over two seasons. He finished he career playing safety and had the game-sealing interception against Kansas State in the Alamo Bowl.

Shawn McCarthy - 1987 and 1988 - The final entry I have, at least in my fan memory, is the greatest emergency quarterback in Big Ten history. McCarthy had a two year NFL career with the Patriots... AS A PUNTER. He left Purdue as perhaps the best punter in our history. His 273 career punts is still a career record and his 44.6 yard average in 1989 is the second best in school history. In the NFL in 1991 he uleashed a 93 yard punt, the longest in Patriots' history and 3rd longest in NFL history.

For much of the 1987 and 1988 season, however, he also was forced to be Purdue’s quarterback. It wasn’t great. He threw for 1,579 yards and 8 TDs against 19 interceptions. He was not under center when Purdue pulled off a 31-26 win at Ohio State, our most recent win in the Horseshoe.