In Purdue's rebuilding year, it's a word that has been muttered many times. In a miserable rebuilding season that has now reached a 1-8 mark, the future is all the Boilermakers can look toward.
Purdue's potential starts with freshman quarterback Danny Etling, who is now four starts (and losses) into his collegiate career. He was inserted in place of fifth-year senior Rob Henry during the loss to Northern Illinois, where coach Darrell Hazell began the plan toward next year. Yet, so far, we haven't learned anything about Etling's potential.
There's no questioning that Etling has a rocket arm, all the abilities and the poise to be a Big Ten quarterback. It's on display each day in practice. Watch Etling in a 7-on-7 drill and you'll leaved impressed. But can he package it all together and be the next great in Purdue's ‘Cradle of Quarterbacks' tradition? At this point, we haven't even been offered a hint.
Etling's day against Iowa ended on the sidelines, watching backup quarterback Austin Appleby complete the game. Before that, he took hit after hit after hit. His stat line wasn't horrible, a 15-of-28, 145-yard performance. He even broke the Boilermakers' scoring drought with a two-yard touchdown pass to fullback Kurt Freytag. Oh, and Purdue found the red zone for the first time in over a month.
Still, there's no game-speed evidence that Etling can be great, and there's no evidence otherwise. The freshman remains a mystery.
Pinpoint plenty of that blame on the Boilermakers' offensive line, a senior-laden unit that has looked lost throughout the season. Heck, even commit Denzel Ward was quick to criticize the line's play on Twitter. Etling could use the big guy guarding his blindside.
The Hawkeyes sacked Etling just twice, which is much fewer than in previous games. Coach Darrell Hazell even admitted the line played better. But far too often, Etling was left scrambling for his life and inevitably getting knocked to the Ross-Ade turf. If the protection can't keep its quarterback upright, that rocket arm is going to waste.
Much of the fault is on Purdue's run game, or lack of it. This offense needs to have balance for it to be successful. On Saturday, the Boilermakers posted 53 yards on 28 carries. Akeem Hunt, who was supposed to be the playmaker on offense, tallied nine yards on seven carries. Bruising back Brandon Cottom took the most carries, rushing for 28 yards on 12 attempts.
Without a rushing attack, a listless offense lacks an identity.
Target offensive coordinator John Shoop in the blame game, too. His play-calling on Saturday was far too conservative. With the Boilermakers facing a 17-point deficit in the fourth quarter, Shoop drew up two straight run plays to start a series—the second one being called back for a clipping call. Again, Etling's back was shoved against the wall.
It begs the questions: Why not air it out? What does this team have to lose?
Throughout the game, there were failed screen passes and low-risk dumps that walked right into the teeth of a relentless Iowa defense. Only once, by my count, did the Boilermakers take a shot more than 30 yards downfield, and it just escaped the outstretched arms of receiver Deangelo Yancey.
Oh, by the way, Yancey—the go-to guy for Etling—had just two catches for 11 yards. Purdue's leading receiver was Akeem Hunt, who had seven catches on the afternoon. In an aggressive offense, the tailback isn't a leading receiver.
Let's get back to that key word, potential. Ideally, Purdue's offense would be a dynamic West Coast attack with that quarterback who can make all the throws, a slew of talented receivers (see DeAngelo Yancey, B.J. Knauf, Shane Mikesky, etc.), and a rushing attack to complement the aerial assault, all of this stemming from a physical, badgering offensive line.
None of this has happened for Purdue. The offense has faltered—over and over again.
This season, as bad as it has been, hasn't resulted in any progress. There hasn't been any development, and these freshmen and sophomores, the future of this Purdue program, haven't improved from their first game experience.
It all starts with Etling, the promising quarterback touted as Purdue's future. At this point, we don't know what that future holds. It's all just potential.