WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Rob Henry is about as prepared as a redshirt freshman quarterback can be for a Big Ten game as a first-time starter.
Purdue's original starter, Robert Marve, was in and out of the lineup before suffering a season-ending knee injury on Sept. 25 against Toledo, giving Henry a chance to earn significant playing time for the Boilermakers (2-2). He helped Purdue clinch a 24-13 win over Ball State with a late touchdown pass, and was solid in the second half of the 31-20 loss to Toledo.
Marve's injury came right before Purdue's bye week, giving the Boilermakers extra time to adjust heading into Saturday's Big Ten opener at Northwestern.
"Really, the open week came at a great time, just perfect timing," Purdue coach Danny Hope said. "Without it, we could have been in trouble with as many key injuries as we've had, and particularly losing Robert Marve in the last game. But the open week really allowed us to get ourselves realigned and to get our new quarterback a bunch of reps."
It's an odd situation for Henry. He started the fall practice behind Marve and Caleb TerBush, but just before the season began, TerBush was ruled academically ineligible. Now, he is the starter at a school that has produced quarterbacks such as current NFL stars Drew Brees and Kyle Orton.
Hope said the team believes in Henry.
"He's a guy that's real calm and collected and makes a lot of sense," Hope said. "He's very smart. He makes good decisions on the field. So you can have some confidence in him."
Henry got off to a rocky start against Toledo, but improved in the second half. He completed 13 of 21 passes for 118 yards and a touchdown and ran for 57 yards on 11 carries after the break.
Henry has passed for 233 yards and rushed for 167 this season. He has been effective as a runner, but has completed just over 50 percent of his passes.
"Rob's a good passer," Hope said. "He needs reps, timing-wise, but he's getting those now."
Henry won't have all of Purdue's top receivers available. Keith Smith, the team's top receiver last season, was knocked out for the season with a knee injury against Western Illinois, and Justin Siller, a starter, injured his foot against Toledo and is out indefinitely. Gary Bush, a redshirt freshman, has moved to the top of the depth chart as Siller's replacement.
True freshman Sean Robinson becomes the new backup signal caller. Hope was planning to redshirt him, but now, he is expected to play some on Saturday. Hope said Robinson is a natural passer.
"He's a good player," Hope said. "He's behind reps with the varsity, but he's a very good prospect, and we believe that he can do well as we continue to prepare him."
Hope expects the Boilermakers to be successful through the injuries.
"It's unfortunate that we've lost key players," he said. "We haven't tapped out all of our resources yet. We can play a lot better in a lot of spots with the same guys that are out there that are very talented. So we're still very optimistic about the season."