FORT WAYNE – On the seasons first play from scrimmage Saturday against Middle Tennessee State, Purdue quarterback Caleb TerBush stepped back and threw a 10-yard completion to Justin Siller for a first down.
The significance of that one play cannot be underestimated, because it was the first game-day pass thrown by TerBush in more than 22 months.
After nearly two years of inactivity – if not lingering obscurity on the depth chart – TerBush was the best quarterback Purdue had available. And despite an afternoon of inconsistency, the 6-foot-5 junior responded with a late fourth-quarter, 85-yard touchdown drive that gave the Boilermakers a 27-24 come-from-behind victory at Ross-Ade Stadium.
He was earmarked as the No. 3 quarterback this season, but the fateful combination of a late-August knee injury to projected starter Rob Henry and an ACL tear last year to Robert Marve that wasnt healing quickly enough shoved the native of Metamora, Ill., to the front of the line to begin the 2011 season.
So his 10-yard completion to Siller was the first competitive pass thrown by TerBush since Oct. 31, 2009, when he was 4 of 10 for 22 yards in a mop-up role during a 37-0 loss at Wisconsin.
I felt like I did all right, TerBush said after his first start Saturday. I had a lot of people around me helping me out. Everyone was confident in me, so I kind of built off their confidence, and that helped me out. We came out slinging right away. We got some catches under our belt, and that helped a lot.
Until he completed 5 of 6 passes for 74 yards on the final drive, including the 35-yard touchdown pass to Antavian Edison with 49 seconds remaining, TerBushs performance wasnt drawing comparisons with the schools legendary quarterbacks. Trailing 24-20 with 3:53 left in the game and the ball at the Purdue 15-yard line, TerBush had completed 14 of 27 passes for 145 yards, with one touchdown and one interception.
For much of the day, including the 35-yard catch/run by Edison, TerBushs completions were mostly on safe, short routes.
Interestingly enough, his only interception, which came early in the second quarter, was followed on the next series with a 31-yard roll-out completion to Siller.
It was the opening play of a 98-yard touchdown drive that ended with a 2-yard flip to fullback Jared Crank.
Yet in his next four series, TerBush went 3 for 10, was sacked once, ran for zero yards, had one pass go for minus 3 yards and tossed two balls into the stands – all of which resulted in four punts.
After the game, Purdue coach Danny Hope was grateful for the win but realistic about his quarterback.
He could do a lot better, Hope said. We missed some checks. We didnt get some signals. At one point in time I think we had more penalty yards than we had offensive yardage.
The bottom line is we found a way to win, and thats the important thing. I think Caleb grew up a whole lot (Saturday), and all of the other players around him.