GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Hawaii running back Nate Ilaoa tried to brush off a pair of Purdue defenders last night.
Boilermakers battle right to the end
Purdue coach Joe Tiller said earlier in the week that his Boilermakers didn't want to be in Hawaii, but they showed otherwise last night.
The Boilermakers of the Big Ten did way more than the oddsmakers -- along with most people who follow Hawaii football -- expected.
Instead of crumbling in the second half like nearly every other visitor at Aloha Stadium this year, Purdue stayed disciplined for all four quarters and fought back from a 17-point halftime deficit and nearly pulled off an upset before falling 42-35.
Many Boilermakers stepped up with big performances, including quarterback Curtis Painter and defensive ends Cliff Avril and Anthony Spencer. The play of the offensive line was another highlight for the 17 1/2-point underdog Boilermakers.
But in the end, two Painter interceptions helped Hawaii's quick-striking offense score two late touchdowns to end it.
"We forced the ball early in the game and we forced it at the end and I thought that was the difference," Tiller said. "This team (Hawaii) isn't leading the nation in scoring by accident. The problem with playing a team that is so explosive is that you have to match them and sometimes you have to press and when you do that, invariably things go wrong.
"But other than that, everybody on our offense made big plays. At halftime (when Purdue trailed 17-0) I told the players that we were a step away from making a lot of plays, to just relax and go out and get back in the game score-wise."
Painter, who finished 29-for-42 for 357 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions, led the Boilermakers back into the game. They actually led twice -- 21-20 and 28-27 -- after Painter's fourth-quarter scoring passes of 28 yards to Greg Orton and 19 to Dustin Keller.
But then came the picks.
"Both of those (interceptions), I would love to have back," Painter said. "I think we did (have a great game), minus the first half when I don't think we played well. But in the second half, the offense was scoring points and the defense was making stops and we gave ourselves a chance to win it. All year, coming out strong in the second half has been our driving force if we sense we're not playing well in the first half."
Painter was helped immensely by his line, which kept UH defensive ends Ikaika Alama-Francis and Melila Purcell from changing the complexion of the game.
"I think we definitely won the battle at the line," Purdue guard Jordan Grimes said. "We didn't miss our assignments and we were more physical. They (the UH defense) compare favorably to a Big Ten defense. I wouldn't put them up there with a Michigan or an Iowa, but they remind me more of Northwestern, even though it's a completely different style."
Spencer, the Champs Sports Bowl-bound Boilermakers defensive end, had a quiet night, tackle-wise, but he batted down a Colt Brennan pass, had two quarterback hurries and sprinted across the field to make a hit along with Justin Scott to force Ilaoa's first of two lost fumbles. That play led to Purdue's first touchdown.
Avril, the Boilermakers' other defensive end, also had a big night. He broke up four Brennan passes and had a sack among his three tackles.
"They doubled and sometimes triple-teamed Spencer," Tiller said. "We played a three-man front in the first half, but we switched to a four-man front in the second half to give them a little something more to think about.
"That was pretty typical of Greg Avril. He was a linebacker up until 10 weeks ago, so he has the vision of a linebacker. That's why he can get up there to knock those passes down."
Tiller wasn't surprised Hawaii was able to score twice late to win it.
"They have that type of offense where we're looking for guys to make the big plays. We would be stupid to think they're not going to throw the ball all the way up the field. After all, they run that run-and-shoot, something, something, something."