In his first ever start at the college level, quarterback Austin Appleby shouldered most of the offensive weight and carried Purdue to its first conference win under head coach Darrell Hazell.
Appleby finished his day completing 15 of his 20 pass attempts for 202 yards and a touchdown. He added 76 yards and reached the end zone twice with his legs to help his team beat Illinois 38-27.
For a brief period of time, there was a sense that maybe the Boilermakers had found someone who could cure their quarterback woes.
But the consistency tapered out as the season continued, putting Appleby’s impressive performance in the rearview mirror.
Now, as Purdue enters the 2015 campaign, last year’s seven-game starter finds himself battling to retain his role under center.
Appleby ended last season completing only 52.9 percent of his passes, ranking 13th of the 14 Big Ten quarterbacks. He was one of only four in the conference to toss more interceptions than touchdowns while the Boilers dropped their final six games of the year.
The North Canton native particularly struggled in the final four games of the year. He threw seven of his 11 interceptions in those games and had a cumulative completion percentage of 48.2. During that stretch, Purdue was beaten by an average margin of more than 17 points per game.
And though the final five weeks of the season may have defined Appleby’s rough first season under center, it shouldn’t be the viewed as the precursor to what he can do if he’s back on the field this fall.
Injuries and inexperience were key components to Appleby’s decline. After all, it wasn’t until Danny Anthrop, Purdue’s leading wide receiver, went down with a torn ACL that the offense truly began its struggles.
Making your first start in a conference game, without the luxury of adequate preparations to work out some of the kinks and familiarize yourself with an offensive scheme isn’t an easy transition, either.
With a year under his belt, consistent first-string snaps and good competition from his teammate, freshman David Blough, Appleby might find himself more comfortable on the field.
That comfort could lead to more wins for the Boilermakers and a potential shot at reaching a bowl game.
Appleby’s athleticism that he displayed throughout the 2014 season wasn’t an uncharacteristic occurrence. He threw three touchdown passes against Minnesota while racking up 79 rushing yards. Against Michigan State, he finished 24/37 for 211 yards.
In both games, the Boilers stood a fighter’s chance.
Those stats, against that caliber of competition, don’t happen by accident. Appleby has proven he’s got the skills to fill Purdue’s quarterback role successfully. The question is, will he get another opportunity?
With Blough pushing hard, Hazell and the coaching staff is still hesitant to name a starter which means one won’t be designated until the final days leading up to the season opener against Marshall.
Maybe that’s a good thing for Appleby.
The added pressure to perform well in practice would well-prepare Appleby for a 12-game slate. It should give him the same confidence he had last October when he took the field against Illinois.
Purdue’s quarterback situation has been a constant shuffle since the 2010 season. Even though the Boilers have made a pair of bowl trips since that time, there’s been little consistency at the position.
Appleby has the ability to be the answer for that issue. If he showcases the type of talent he exposed in his first three starts, he’ll be the main reason the Boilers are back in the postseason.