Dienhart: Battered Marve aims for bowl bid

You can’t help but notice the clunky brace on Robert Marve’s left knee. It wasn’t there way back in 2007, when Marve was one of the nation’s hottest shots, a can’t-miss prospect from Plant High School in Tampa, Fla. Name a school, any school, and Marve could have gone to it.

Now, six years later, Marve is finishing out his college career in relative obscurity and far from the national spotlight. A Heisman contender? An All-American? A first-team All-Big Ten choice? Nope. Nope. Nope.

There are a number of reasons why Marve’s career never fulfilled expectations. The biggest is because of that bulky knee brace which is helping support a knee that has endured not one, not two, but three ACL injuries.

But in many ways, what the Purdue quarterback is doing now is as impressive as any individual honors. You see: Marve is playing with a torn ACL.

Surgery and rehab can wait. Marve has a team to lead to a bowl game. He has a career to punctuate with pride. And when he needs a little motivation as he jogs onto the field, Marve glances down at that confounding brace, a symbol of his toughness, courage and never-say-die attitude.

[RELATED: Look at Marve's career and season stats.]

Marve initially tore an ACL in July 2009 after he announced he would transfer to Purdue after two years at Miami (Fla.). He then suffered another ACL tear early in the 2010 season against Toledo. This year, Marve tore the left ACL again in a loss at Notre Dame on September 8.

“We have our fingers crossed it’s not as serious as it has been in the past and he can still come back and play this season,” Boilermaker coach Danny Hope said shortly after the injury this season.

Three ACL injuries and you’re out, right? Not Marve. He knows his playing days soon will be finished. He wants to savor each snap, each throw, each run and each hit. He wants to help push this Purdue team to a second bowl in a row. The Boilermakers haven’t been to consecutive bowls since 2006-07.

“A bowl game is a big deal,” said Marve, who has fought through quarterback rotations and competitions in addition to the knee injuries for most of his four seasons in West Lafayette. “It’s about having success or not having success. It’s a huge deal. We still can have a successful season, not the season we had in mind, but a season that people can look back and be proud of how we bounced back.”

With starter Caleb TerBush struggling, the Purdue staff opted to go with Marve—bum knee and all—after an overtime loss at Ohio State on Oct, 20. What did the Boilermakers, 3-4 overall and 0-3 in the Big Ten, have to lose? The offense was struggling and the season was slipping away.

[RELATED: Review Purdue's football season to date.]

It has proven to be wise decision. But don’t you wonder what could have been had Purdue anointed Marve the starter sooner?

“He is quite a force, but we had a quarterback (TerBush) that started 13 games the previous season, and we had a winning season,” said Hope. “We had a good, winning, experienced quarterback coming back.

“It came about as it did, and a lot of that had to do with factors beyond our control, but we always thought Robert was a heck of a player. We wanted to get Robert ready and see if he could make a difference. As he got healthier and got more reps and played better, he certainly can, and he certainly is.”

Marve lost his first two starts back—at Minnesota and against Penn State. But he engineered a surprising 27-24 win at Iowa last week, hitting 25-of-33 passes for 266 yards and two touchdowns. He was at his best at the end of the game, driving the offense 37 yards in two plays in less than 16 seconds to set up a game-winning 46-yard field goal as time expired. The victory ended a five-game losing skid and kept the Boilermakers’ bowl hopes alive. It also added to Marve’s stature.

Marve is hitting 65 percent of his passes for 1,001 yards with eight touchdowns and just two interceptions. But even more vital: Marve has the Boilers believing. At 4-6 overall and 1-5 in the Big Ten, Purdue must win its last two games to become bowl eligible. With the way Marve excelled at Iowa and how Purdue rallied to win when it didn’t play its best, anything seems possible for the Boilermakers.

“We’re in the type of situation where we’re in the playoffs,” Marve said. “Every game is a big one.”

The next big one is at Illinois, which has lost seven in a row, followed by a season-ending visit from Indiana in the Old Oaken Bucket game.
It’s doubtful that Marve dreamed of capping his college career in a minor bowl—likely the Heart of Dallas Bowl—when he signed with Miami (Fla.) coming out of high school as Florida’s 2007 Mr. Football. Marve’s scrapbook was fat with accolades. He was rated the No. 8 quarterback in the nation and No. 20 player in Florida by Rivals.com. Scout.com had Marve as the nation’s No. 14 quarterback, No. 77 overall player in America and No. 5 player in Florida.

This is a guy who broke Tim Tebow’s single-season state standards for passing yards (4,380) and touchdowns (48) and bettered a 31-year-old mark for completions (280). Marve also led his school to a Class 4A state championship by completing 30-of-46 passes for 305 yards and three touchdowns in the title game.

“Sometimes you get your back against wall, and maybe you learn from your last games, maybe it’s a combo of everything,” said Marve. “There comes a time where a team has to say we’re going to be good or we’re going to be OK with losing.

“I think we’re turning it around.”

***

GRID BITS: Ohio State’s Urban Meyer is 32-2 when having more than one week to prepare for a foe, and has won his last 11 in a row under such circumstances. … Michigan State’s last six games have been decided by four points or less, the longest streak by a Division I team since at least 1996. MSU was 9-1 in games decided by 10 points or less in 2010-11… Wisconsin has limited its last five opponents to fewer than 300 yards a game, yielding only 14.2 points during the five-game span. … Wisconsin scored 62 points at Indiana last week; Illinois has scored 63 in six Big Ten games … Nebraska foes are completing a scant 46.3 percent of their passes, the lowest opponent completion percentage in the nation. Eight of Nebraska’s 10 foes have completed 50 percent or less of their passes. Since a Sept. 8 loss at UCLA, Cornhusker opponents are completing just 45.3 percent of their attempts. In Memorial Stadium, teams are completing just 42.9 percent of their passes. … Iowa’s last four opponents have averaged 475 yards. … Illinois has had just five plays of 30 yards or more this season. … Indiana has thrown more than twice the number of touchdown passes this season (21) than it did all of 2011 (10). … Penn State team has dominated foes in the first quarter this season, outscoring them 83-6. But third quarter is the real bellwether. When Penn State outscores foes in the third quarter, it is 4-0. When it is outscored in that quarter, it is 1-4. … Penn State QB Matt McGloin needs 328 yards passing in his final two games to become the school’s single-season passing yardage leader. … Iowa is facing its first losing regular-season record since going 3-9 in 2000, Kirk Ferentz’s second season in Iowa City. … This will be Iowa’s first game vs. a ranked for this season when it travels to No. 24 Michigan. … With a win over Minnesota, Nebraska would complete its first undefeated season at home since 2001. … The Minnesota game will mark the 500th contest in which Nebraska Athletic Director Tom Osborne will be in an official role with the Husker football program. Osborne was an assistant coach from 1962 to 1972, served as head coach from 1973 to 1997, winning 255 games, and has been Nebraska’s athletic director since October of 2007. Osborne is retiring from his post on Jan. 1, 2013. … Illinois averages 4.42 yards per play. Only Maryland at 4.37 is worse in the FBS ranks. … Penn State has won its six home games vs. Indiana by an average of 25 points.

BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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mark on 11/17/2012 @ 4:15pm EDT Said:

I cant see the game in columbus oh. Please fix it.

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