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WEST LAFAYETTE – Purdue's great quarterback debate is over.
Or is it?
Caleb TerBush blew it. Robert Marve took advantage. Case closed.
But then, it's not.
In the Boiler land of second chances, Marve is not guaranteed to be the starter on Saturday when the Boilers play at Notre Dame.
Coach Danny Hope maintains nothing is sure except the Boilers will do what gives them the best chance to win.
“We'll see how Robert played (against Eastern Kentucky) and we'll see how they practice later in the week,” he said. “We'll make an assessment as a staff. All three of those quarterbacks are so important to us.”
The third quarterback is Rob Henry, the former starter who is finally healthy. He and Marve played in the Eastern Kentucky blowout. TerBush was suspended because of a “violation of team rules.”
Does this threaten what could be a special season?
Hope called it more of an “inconvenience” than a “catastrophe.” Given the fact Purdue already was set for a three-quarterback rotation, probably no team in the country is better prepared for issues at this position.
For the record, Marve is 40-for-64 for 311 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions against Notre Dame. TerBush is 10-for-15 for 101 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
Senior receiver Gary Bush has seen all sorts of twists and turns in his career. In the last week he's seen linebacker Dwayne Beckford kicked off the team after his fourth arrest, and TerBush and tight end Sterling Carter suspended for a game.
“It's football. It's life,” Bush said. “The situation changed and Marve did very well.”
Sure, Marve wasn't perfect. He threw an interception (Hope said it was caused by a surprise Eastern Kentucky defensive change), forced a few other risky passes and fumbled, but he also made plays. Lots of plays. He was 30-for-38 for a career-high 295 yards and three touchdowns. The last time he'd thrown three TD passes was in 2008 when he was playing for Miami. He showed good mobility and arm strength. He was poised and confident, which is what you'd expect from a sixth-year senior.
But the No. 1 thing Marve did?
He didn't get suspended.
You have to trust every player, but you absolutely have to trust the quarterback. He is the Alpha Male leader of every football team. He is the rock upon which the offense will succeed or fail. If you have to suspend your starter – who also happens to be a team captain – the night before the season opener (Hope said it took a while to gather all the facts before announcing it Friday night, although he did tell Marve he'd be starting early in the week), well, can you really trust him?
Granted, we don't know TerBush's sin. It might be academic. It might be something relatively trivial that Hope used as an example to show that no one is above the team.
“We have to be a much more disciplined team, whether it's on the field or off the field,” he said. “That will make a difference in us being champions in 2012. I don't have any buyer's remorse in the decision. It was an easy decision. I think Caleb would concur as well.”
TerBush wasn't around to concur or disagree, but let's not quibble over details.
Marve wasn't about to throw TerBush under the bus during his postgame interview he conducted standing next to Henry.
“Caleb is one of us and we felt bad about the situation,” he said. “We feel us three are pretty solid for the team.”
Marve, who hadn't started a game in almost two years, said he wasn't looking to make a statement – “I was just trying to get a win” – but getting game experience before heading to Notre Dame is huge.
“It's nice getting your feet wet a little bit against that kind of opponent without playing a Notre Dame right off the bat,” he said.
Henry absolutely needed some feet wetting after not having played a college game since Nov. 27, 2010, against Indiana. Not surprisingly, he struggled early. He took a hard hit and fumbled. He threw a horrible pass even a sportswriter could have picked off. He spent the next two quarters hoping for another opportunity.
In the fourth quarter, it came and he delivered. Offensive coordinator Gary Nord called simple passes and Henry executed to perfection. He went 7-for-7 for 77 yards and ended with a 15-yard touchdown pass. Yes, the game was long over by then. Sure, Eastern Kentucky's defensive fire was spent and many of its starters on the sidelines. Still, it was much-needed success for a guy who needed it.
Overall for Purdue, it wasn't a perfect season opener, but unless you're Alabama, you don't get perfection. The Boilers committed five turnovers to negate the four they forced. They had a punt blocked, missed an extra point, knocked kickoffs out of bounds and fumbled a punt (memo to Frankie Williams – don't ever again try to field a VERY short punt on the run in traffic).
All of this is very correctable, and will need to be to defeat a Notre Dame team that crushed Navy in Ireland.
But it all starts with the quarterback.
Of that, there is no debate.