“He prepares like a nine-year vet in the league,” coach Darrell Hazell said. “He studies the film. He's in there at 6 in the morning. He takes meticulous three-, four- or five-page notes. He wants to know the answers to the test."
Saturday's test includes showing poise under Cornhusker pressure, reading defenses and making the plays that are there, not trying to force ones that aren't.
“What I told Danny is you don't need to do anything different from the last three or four weeks,"Hazell said. "He's gotten so much better since the beginning of the season. It's all about preparation.”
Etling will direct what had been, before the bye, the Big Ten's worst offense. Except that it won't be the same offense. Purdue (1-4) has tweaked its pro-style attack to accommodate Etling's strong arm and quick release. The Boilers will spread the field vertically and horizontally. The quick-passing game has been expanded to use more sideline throws because Etling has the velocity to get the ball there.
“He can make every throw,” Hazell said. “He can throw the deep ball. He can throw sideline to sideline and goal line to goal line. When you do that, you involve the wide receivers. That's what we want to do — play sideline to sideline offensively.”
In August, Etling wasn't ready. But a combination of his improvement and the offensive struggles with senior Rob Henry as the starter demanded a change.
Last week, Hazell made it.
In five games, Henry completed 53.6 percent of his passes for four touchdowns and six interceptions. In one game, a loss to Northern Illinois, Etling completed 48.7 percent of his passes with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
He also threw for 241 yards.
Etling's starting debut will come in the Boiler-friendly confines of Ross-Ade Stadium. He'll face a Nebraska defense that gives up 263 passing yards a game and allows 25.5 points.
Etling figures to show his youth at times, especially against a defense certain to pressure him – the Cornhuskers have forced 12 turnovers. When mistakes happen, Hazell has one big piece of advice:
Learn from them, but don't dwell on them.
“That's going to be big," Hazell said. "You'd like him to play like a vet, but you know at some point that freshman will show up. You have to work through those things. But his ability is so good, he can overcome them if you don't get many of those bad turnovers.”
As for Henry, he's a work in progress at safety. It's been seven years since the fifth-year senior has played defensive back, and while he's shown potential, he likely won't play against Nebraska.
“It might be a bit too early to say that he's going to get in there,” Hazell said. “You never know what's going to happen.”
Henry pushed for another playing opportunity as soon as Hazell told him Etling would be the starter.
“Rob is a very unselfish guy,” Hazell said. “That's why he's our captain. He said, where can I help the team at another position? I've played running back. I've played a little wide receiver. I've also played some defensive back.”
Injuries in the secondary had stripped Purdue of its depth there. Hazell mentioned defensive back and Henry didn't hesitate.
“He goes, 'I'm all in,'” Hazell said. “He was great about it. That's what you need more on this team, unselfish people to help us win games.
“You can't say enough about guys like that. When you have a bunch of those types of guys, you're going to be very successful. He'll be successful in life because of that unselfish attitude. That's why you love Rob Henry. ”
Henry's speed and athleticism have helped make him a practice factor. He had an interception Monday, and has picked the brains of his fellow defensive backs, including safety Landon Feichter, who is sidelined with a broken leg.
“He certainly hasn't looked out of place,” Hazell said. “You watch him run around and he obviously is a player who hasn't done it a lot. You would think he'd be out of position a lot of times, but I haven't seen that. We've asked him to do some tackling. That's going to be the big question – how well can he tackle?
“He made a pick in practice, which was good for his confidence and ours. We look for him to continue to get better every day.”
Up nextKickoff: Nebraska at Purdue, noon Saturday
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