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Ben Smith

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Boilermakers lacking ‘the’ quarterback

SOUTH BEND –There’s no confusion here, ladies and gentlemen. Why, this quarterback deal is as clear as this deep-blue-turning-to-ink-black night.

See that kid down there, standing at the 20-yard line in an empty Notre Dame Stadium as Saturday afternoon fades to Saturday night?

He’s wearing black shorts and a green No. 3 jersey and white bill-to-the-rear cap, and that fade he just threw into the end zone, an hour after Notre Dame 20, Purdue 17, absolutely killed. Hit his buddy, madly pelting toward the flag, square in the palms.

So, yeah. He, too, could be your quarterback, Notre Dame.

Or Purdue’s quarterback. Or a quarterback, considering it’s a position that apparently no longer requires “the” as an operative adjective.

This is what we learned on a perfect Saturday for football in one of its perfect places: Who plays quarterback is a multiple-choice question, here in these modern times. The answers are “A,” “B,” “C,” and possibly even “D.”

“We’re going to play the guys that can help us win,” declared Purdue coach Danny Hope, who let Caleb TerBush try and then Robert Marve and then Caleb TerBush again. “If it’s one quarterback, that’s fine; if it’s two, that’s fine; if it’s three, that’s fine; if it’s four, we’re going to do whatever it takes in order for us to win.”

No one, or at least very few someones, has ever made that sort of thing work. But at least there’s no ambivalence about it where Hope is concerned.

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, on the other hand …

Well, first of all, let him be very clear: He has a “the” quarterback. His name is Everett Golson, and he was 21 of 31 for 289 yards and a touchdown Saturday, and he was doing a perfectly fine job right up until the moment he fumbled at his own 15 and Purdue recovered. And then TerBush, who hadn’t played since the third quarter because Marve was playing, came on to throw a touchdown pass to Antavian Edison to tie the game.

After which Tommy Rees came on for Notre Dame, marched the Irish downfield and set up Kyle Brindza’s winning field goal.

“We made the decision with the flow of the game that Tommy could come in there and manage our two-minute (offense), and he did a great job,” Kelly said.

Then he said this: “I will further say there is no quarterback controversy. Everett Golson is our starter. He will start against Michigan State. But we know that we have assets at the position in Andrew Hendrix and Tommy Rees.”

Of course, whenever a coach feels compelled to say there’s no controversy, that usually means there’s a controversy. That was out of Kelly’s hands the moment he pulled Golson and sent in Rees, and a small but noticeable chorus of boos floated down out of the places where the money sits on Saturday afternoons in the fall.

That displeasure was ultimately washed away when Rees took the Irish home – a stroke of luck for Kelly.

As it was, he still had to address what is, at least partly a situational situation.

“Tommy’s a guy, if you look at it in baseball terms, he’s a closer,” Kelly explained. “Maybe your middle-relief guy is (Andrew) Hendrix. But maybe next week it changes.”

You hear that, kid in the No. 3 jersey?

Best practice that fade a few more times. You never know.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.

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