The fans rose to their feet at Etling entered the game. Their Boilermakers were down big to MAC power Northern Illinois. It would only get worse, even with Etling at the helm. But alas, we get a look into the program's future.
Give credit to Rob Henry, who handled his demotion about as well as he could. Speaking to the media after the loss, he took all the blame—frankly, more than he deserved—and vowed to improve. Henry is an incredibly likeable guy who has been a class act all the way.
When Darrell Hazell made the move to start his fifth-year senior over a pair of freshmen (Austin Appleby being the other), it was an inspired decision. Hazell felt this team would be competing at the top of the Big Ten. Instead, it'll be lucky to avoid the conference's basement. It's not all Henry's fault—there are more problems to count on two hands—but a change was needed.
Through five games of the season, we've seen what will happen. Barring a miracle, there won't be a bowl game in Purdue's future. It's a rebuilding year, and progress is all that matters.
With each Etling pass, you'll get a glimpse at Purdue's potential. You'll see what he's capable of now and what he can improve on. It was fitting that his first career touchdown pass went to fellow freshman Cameron Posey. That could be a connection for years to come.
Etling's performance was a mixed bag, as should be expected. He had two great touchdown drives and two costly interceptions. He's still young and learning on the fly.
The growing pains are a part of the process. Etling will have to enjoy the good and learn from the bad. Coach John Shoop is the perfect tutor for the freshman—someone who has developed quarterbacks at the college and professional level.
This is what we'll be watching this season. It's an opportunity for progress, both on a week-to-week basis and with a look at the long-term future of Purdue's football program. Could Danny Etling be the next great leader of the Boilermakers, the newest addition to the historic ‘Cradle of Quarterbacks' tradition?
Maybe the freshman can give Purdue fans more to cheer about.