WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Robert Marve turns ACL injury into irrelevance. He tears up a ligament deemed essential for high-level athletic performance and shrugs if off as if it were a paper cut.
If only Purdue could do the same with its big-time football opportunities.
Marve showed “courage” and the Boilers displayed “embarrassment” in their Big Ten-opening loss to previously struggling Michigan, and where they go from here is anybody's guess.
Marve wants to play. This is the last college shot for the sixth-year senior quarterback and he wants to make the most of it, messed up knee or not.
If you saw him run around against the Wolverines, you'd have thought reports of a third ACL injury -- he missed two games after hurting the knee against Notre Dame -- were a myth. He looked fast, agile and elusive.
“The knee feels great,” he says. “I practiced like that all week. I don't know what it is or how it is, but I don't have any pain in my knee. I wear the brace because they tell me to. I hope my running looked like it did in the Notre Dame game before I got hurt. I think I'm the same speed. The ball is coming out fine.”
Marve came off the bench to direct two fourth-quarter drives, one ending in a field goal, the other in an interception. Marve finished 5-for-8 for 43 yards and an interception. It wasn't nearly enough in a 44-13 loss, but it suggested the quarterback rotation with Caleb TerBush is back.
“I'm looking for an opportunity to play more. I still think I can bring a lot to the table.”
Adds receiver O.J. Ross: “He's a playmaker.”
Coach Danny Hope agrees, although he's not quite ready to officially reinstate the rotation. He says he wants to analyze the film and see how the quarterbacks played in conjunction with the offensive line and skill players.
“A lot of times, (the quarterbacks) play about as well as the ones around them,” he says, “so we'll get an assessment and make a decision from there. His success merits some opportunities to play in the future.”
Then there are Purdue's Big Ten prospects.
The Boilers (3-2 overall, 0-1 in the conference) seemed poised for a breakthrough victory against Michigan (3-2, 1-0). Even most of ESPN's College GameDay crew picked them to win.
Instead, they got hammered.
They couldn't stop quarterback Denard Robinson (235 yards rushing, 105 yards passing), which puts them on par with most teams in America, but that's no excuse. They should have hit him every play, just to show they care.
Purdue entered the game ranked third nationally on third-down conversion (58 percent) and left reeling from 1-for-11 ineptitude. A defense expected to be one of the Big Ten's best has gotten torched the last two weeks, allowing 85 points and a ton of yards.
Yes, the defense is a little battered with defensive tackle Bruce Gaston limited by a hamstring injury (he only played the first couple of series), banged-up cornerback Ricardo Allen not practicing much and backup cornerback Normondo Allen out with a lingering knee injury.
Again, that's no excuse. Defensive tackle Kawann Short said the unit was “shocked” by what Michigan did to them.
“We know we're better than that.”
Championship teams don't get beat like this, especially at home. It suggests more tough times are coming.
Sure, the Boilers remain in the hunt because they're in the Leaders Division with No. 8 Ohio State (which is starting to look very dangerous) and Penn State, both ineligible for the postseason. Plus, the Big Ten is as bad as it's been since, well, maybe ever.
That means Purdue only has to beat out Wisconsin (1-1 in the Big Ten), Indiana (0-2) and Illinois (0-2) to earn a trip to the title game in Indianapolis. IU and Illinois are in rebuilding mode, and the Badgers are struggling like they haven't in years. If the Boilers beat Wisconsin at Ross-Ade Stadium on Saturday -- and they'd better win if they want to prove there's substance to their hype -- they'd have an edge that could get them into the Big Ten title game.
And then, perhaps, a second shot at Michigan.
“We have to live and learn,” Marve says. “That's life. You get beat up and thrown out, and you have to learn how to bounce back and be stronger.
“It's good this happened early in the Big Ten season. There are a lot of things we can do to come back. We weren't very strong. We didn't throw our best punch. If you don't and you're playing a team like Michigan, they'll take advantage of you.”
On Saturday we'll see how well the Boilers have learned.