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Hawaii game reactions (Welcome back to real Purdue football)

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To all the people who stayed up late to watch this entire game, I offer my apologies. For about 25 minutes of the second half we played the best half of football we have played all season. It was at that time that we reverted into the same mode that cost us the Minnesota game last season. We gave up an all-to-easy drive for the tying touchdown and two-point conversion, and even though the offense was moving the ball very well to that point, you could tell the game was over. We folded under pressure, threw a pick, and then gave up yet another easy TD. It was then as if Painter's second interception was pre-ordained from that point on.

This was a disappointing return to the Purdue football that loses close games that we all know and love. This was a game we had every chance to win, and by all rights should have won, but fell apart with critical turnovers that ended up costing us the game. We took advantage of all three of Hawaii's turnovers, but ours ended up being more costly because the early fumble cost us a near certain touchdown.

I find it hard to believe that we had a drive early in the game where we overcame 20 yards of penalties, essentially making it a 108-yard drive, and we still didn't come up with any points. That was an awful lot of work on what may have been our best drive for the season for nothing. Dan McGowen was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time on the pitch, and it cost us seven points. It was a fantastic drive because it gave us a chance to rest a defense that had been getting torched to that point. If we get the game tied there, it is a huge moral victory for us. Instead, we turned the ball over and gave up a four play, 96-yard scoring drive that looked just as easy as it sounds.

Now I knew Hawaii's offense was good. They obviously had the stats to back it up after going nuts against everyone in the WAC and even hanging 30+ on a very good Boise State team. But to hang over 650 yards on a Big Ten defense, even one as suspect as ours? That was one of the most impressive things of the night. Even worse was that we gave up over 200 yards on the ground. Their running back ran wild early on for two TD's, and only his two fumbles made things bad for him. We were lucky to be in this game because the only time we stopped them is when they stopped themselves. They gave us opportunities with three turnovers, but other than that we forced them into one punt and a bomb of a field goal attempt. I don't count the field goal right before the half because that, much like ours at Northwestern, was a time-driven field goal. I felt they had time get one more play off, but they elected to get the sure three.

The first half couldn't have gone worse for us. It was disappointing, to say the least, that Tiller once again did not go for it on a fourth and short situation in enemy territory. At that point we were down by two scores and had shown that we weren't going to stop their offense. What did we have to lose by going for it? At worse we were going to give them a shorter field to score from. Since they had already driven 96 yards against us it was obvious that field position was unimportant to them. Thankfully, we managed to force one punt in the first half and at least keep their offense off the field for the rest of it with our long, fruitless drives. We were incredibly lucky to be down only 17 points at halftime.

In the second half we had the most dramatic shift in momentum I have seen from us all season. At the tail end of the first half we started to get to Brennan just a little and he had to hold on to the ball and go through his progressions more than he wanted. The touchdown that was called back in the first half because of a penalty, where he had all the time in the world and scrambled around for about 10 seconds before launching a perfect throw for a score was one of the most amazing plays I've seen a college quarterback make. The ineligible receiver downfield had nothing to do with the play, and it didn't matter anyway because they still eventually scored. That type of play was not their early in the second half, and that was thanks to Cliff Avril. While their line was able to contain Spencer, Avril broke through and simply had a monster second half of wreaking havoc in the backfield. I counted at least three pass breakups and a sack.

We needed to force turnovers to have any hope of getting back in the game, and we did exactly that. I give credit to the defense for coming out and really hitting in the second half after Hawaii did the same to us in the first half. In the first half our guys were getting hit and driven back at the end of nearly every play. In the second half we finally started hitting back and hitting ball carriers like we should have been doing all season. It led to the first fumble. I also give credit to the offense for taking advantage of both turnovers early on. We were able to turn all three turnovers into touchdowns, and that was critical. The second half offense was perfect for the first 26 minutes of the second half. Our receivers made some very tough catches in coverage, catches they had not been making all season. Painter was as sharp as he has been all year. About the only disappointment I could find was that we didn't run the ball more.

It was very nice to see Justin Scott get his third interception of the year, especially right after a play where he could have had a pick but simply knocked the ball down. It was also nice to see almost everyone get involved offensively, even the rare Desmond Tardy to Kyle Adams combo. Again though, we went away from the running game too often. While the final touchdown pass to Lymon was a great play, I would have preferred to have used that drive to take some more time off the clock and get a score. I am not saying we should have gotten all conservative entirely, but try to find some kind of balance to take at least two or three minutes off the clock.

I did want to hit on our second half attitude though, as once things started going our way we really played with an emotion I have not seen us have all year. Chris Summers was leading the way on kickoff by bouncing up and down and getting the rest of the kickoff team to do so. There was a fire and a swagger there, at least for a few minutes that allowed us to feed off the emotions of the moments and start to roll over Hawaii. It was enough that we almost rode it victory as we ripped off 35 second half points based almost solely on emotion and momentum.

All the good, in the end, did not outweigh all the bad. As mentioned earlier, we got torched defensively in every facet. We once again showed a propensity to lose close games when we have a chance to close them out. Yes, we played a ranked team more than 5,000 from Ross-Ade until the final minute, but we should have beaten that ranked team. Hawaii showed great resolve. They had not been challenged in the second half of a game in months and found themselves trailing, but they responded and drove twice late to get the win.

Officials have been mentioned as being a problem on the islands, and they were not on this night as most of the questionable calls went Purdue's way. There were several key plays that turned the tide though, and almost all of them went against Purdue.

1. The fumble in the second quarter was a complete disaster, as mentioned earlier. If we score there, we win the game going away in the end.

2. The 52-yard field goal by Hawaii in the third quarter. It didn't seem like much at the time, as we went right back down and scored to take the lead, but it ended up being huge. You simply can't count on a long field goal like that at the college level, and you have to tip your hat to the kicker that makes it. In a close game, those three points were huge as it allowed Hawaii to tie with less than four minutes left instead of simply cut the lead to three. If we have the lead and the ball instead of being tied, it is an entirely different game at the end and maybe Painter doesn't throw two picks.

3. Brennan's running on the final two drives was huge. We just couldn't wrap him up in the backfield. He got lose and tore us up, when one tackle for a loss could have ended one of those last two scoring drives.

4. Hawaii's lone sack came at a critical time. I think it was directly responsible for setting up Hawaii's first interception at the end of the game. It was the first time in the second half that we were stopped for a significant loss, and it killed all our offensive momentum. This was definitely a game-changing sack.

5. Finally, just the defensive breakdowns after we went up 35-27. Much like against Minnesota last year, we were in control on both sides of the ball and completely collapsed.

I will give credit to Hawaii's fans, as at the end of the game they were incredibly loud and made it a true home field advantage. The Warriors are a tough team for anyone to face in Aloha Stadium even when you take away the travel factor. They play very well at home and both the crowd and the players were pumped up from the opening kick. They were regularly louder and in smaller numbers than any Purdue home game this season. The Haka dance that the players did as Purdue left the field during warm-ups was simply a sign of things to come. They took care of business at home and they were very pumped up to play a "name" team with a national ranking for the first time in four years. Colt Brennan is also the real deal, and may be the best quarterback we faced all season.

I also want to give credit to their fans, as many of them stood and applauded as we left the field. Many of their fans expected a blowout because they have had so many blowouts this season, and they were excited to simply have a good game. As we left the stadium several fans congratulated us on having a very good team and for playing a great game. The cockiness they exhibited in the media leading up to the game was severely tested, and many admitted they were lucky to get out of there with a win.

So where do we go from here? It's frustrating that we could have come away with an unexpected win, but once again fell short. We also are more banged up going into our bowl game than we would have been without the Hawaii game. We have one more shot to make some noise by winning our bowl game, but it will take a complete game to do so. We can't afford another slow start like our last several bowl games, nor can we afford to have empty drives like we have had all season. We showed for most of the second half last night just how good of a team we can be against some very strong competition. Now we need to keep growing and put it together. Winning the Champs Sports Bowl will give us a positive jumping off point for next season. That needs to be our sole focus now, as the game will be a winnable game.

NEXT UP: Regular season wrap-up, hopefully sometime before I head back to the mainland on Thursday.