Purdue coach Darrell Hazell made the expected choice at quarterback Wednesday, selecting Danny Etling the new starter.
Then Hazell pulled a surprise by sending the former starter, Rob Henry, out in a defensive jersey.
For Hazell, the decision came down to one thing: He believes Etling gives the Boilermakers’ struggling offense the best chance to win now.
"I just thought that he gave us a boost. He gave us boost and he’s going to be a good player for us," Hazell said. "I love Rob. He’s the most unselfish guy I’ve been around in a long time. We talked yesterday and one of the things he said was if there’s anything I can do to help the football team I’ll do it."
Hazell waited until Wednesday to make the decision public, though there was little doubt which direction he was leaning.
The switch came late in the first half of Saturday’s 55-24 loss to Northern Illinois, after Henry stopped two potential scoring drives with interceptions. The fifth-year senior finished the game 5 of 16 for 130 yards with one TD pass. Through five games, Henry’s passer efficiency rating (100.7) was the second-worst among all Big Ten starters.
Etling gave the Boilermakers (1-4, 0-1 Big Ten) an immediate spark, leading the team to a field goal. But the moment vanished when Northern Illinois scored two quick second-half touchdowns. Etling finished 19 of 39 for 241 yards with two TDs and two interceptions in his college debut.
The move meant Etling lost his chance of having a red-shirt season in 2013.
While some consider the 6-foot-2, 218-pound freshman to be Purdue’s quarterback of the future, Hazell believes Etling is Purdue’s best hope this season. Hazell noted Tuesday that Etling was able to get the ball to receivers outside the hash marks more effectively Saturday.
"I just told Danny the things we need to do as a football team, don’t force things and take care of the ball," Hazell said.
For Henry, it’s yet another odd twist on his strange college odyssey.
He took over as the starting quarterback in the middle of the 2010 season, becoming the first Purdue quarterback to lead the team in passing and rushing during the same season.
In 2011, the incumbent starter was elected team captain and appeared to be on the verge of another big year when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee one week before the season opener.
When Henry returned in 2012, he found himself behind Robert Marve and Caleb TerBush on the depth chart, so coach Danny Hope started moving Henry to different places to get him on the field. Henry wound up completing 21 of 38 passes for 216 yards and three TDs, rushing 38 times for 74 yards and a TD and caught six passes for 65 yards.
Now, after reclaiming the starting job this summer, Henry is moving to safety where he can help a unit that has been short on depth this season. And if that doesn’t work out he could be moving again.
"That’s what we’re going to find out in the next couple of days," Hazell said when asked about how much Henry can contribute in the secondary. "If not, we know there are some things he can do offensively."
The quarterback situation choice wasn’t Hazell’s only big announcement Wednesday.
He also suspended receivers B.J. Knauf and Jordon Woods, who were arrested Monday on charges of theft.
Knauf, a starter and an emerging play-maker, will miss the next two games, lose his ticket privileges for both games and must perform community service work. Knauf has nine catches for 95 yards and one touchdown and has rushed 11 times for 90 yards and one score.
Knauf apologized after practice.
"I just want to say how ashamed and sorry I am for the way I represented this community, the university, the receiving corps, the team, the seniors, anyone involved with Purdue University, anyone who’s supported me in the past," he said. "I’m very sorry for my actions, but I’ve taken steps already and I’m going to do so to better my image and hopefully come back and rebuild my image."