Despite stats, Purdue defense was solid

Despite stats, Purdue defense was solid

ORLANDO, Fla. - Purdue's defense played a deceptively good game. True, the Boilermakers gave up a season-high point total in a 34-27 loss to Georgia on Thursday in the Capital One Bowl.

On the other hand, it was Purdue's highly regarded defense that kept the Boilermakers (9-4) alive and helped send the game into overtime. The Boilers forced a late fumble and made the recovery to set up the game-tying 44-yard field goal by Ben Jones with 49 seconds left in regulation.

Purdue entered the contest ranked 11th in the NCAA in total defense (291.1 yards) and eighth in scoring defense (16.0 points per game)

"I thought our defense played really at their best," Purdue coach Joe Tiller said.

Early on, with the offense struggling with just one first down in the first quarter, the defense was forced to spend a lot of time on the field, and didn't adjust well to the 80-degree temperatures.

"I don't think it was an adjustment to (Georgia's) speed; we hadn't played in the hot weather like that in a long time," said Purdue defensive end Shaun Phillips, who became the school's career sack leader during the game. "They're a fast team, but we pride ourselves as a defense on being fast too. The sun was beaming down on us but they did a great job executing."

Said Tiller, referring to the Bulldogs' 9:46 time of possession: "The first quarter was a horrible quarter. We just put our defense out there and left them out there."

Georgia quarterback David Greene was able to have his way against the Boilermakers through most of the first half, throwing for 224 yards and three touchdowns as the Dogs (11-3) took a 24-0 lead with 4:47 in the second quarter.

Tiller was forced to make some personnel moves after the first quarter. Starting outside linebacker Gilbert Gardner, fourth on the team in tackles, was lost for the game with a shoulder injury. In addition, sophomore cornerback Sean Petty made his first career start in the game replacing Jacques Reeves, who was academically ineligible.

The Dogs were able to exploit Petty's lack of size at 5-foot-11 and experience by running 6-4 Fred Gibson against him in the red zone, and Gibson responded with Georgia's first two touchdowns on little fades into the corner.

"We brought in the other guy (sophomore Brian Hickman), who's been with us longer," Tiller said. "Petty was gassed. He wasn't in shape. I was surprised about that, actually. I thought, 'Hey, we need to make a change and we need to make it quickly.'"

Purdue's defense then stepped up and got the Boilermakers back into the game.

Quarterback Kyle Orton, returning from a dislocated left thumb after a David Pollack sack, mounted a six-play drive that was capped by his 17-yard touchdown run.

On the ensuing drive, Georgia tailback Michael Cooper was stripped of the football by Purdue's Antwaun Rogers, which was recovered by linebacker Nikos Koutouvides on the Bulldogs' 19-yard line with 2:42 to go in the half.

The Boilermakers took advantage of the play with a field goal to go into halftime down 24-10.

The shift in momentum seemed to energize Purdue's defense. The Boilermakers adjusted to Georgia's strategy of throwing short passes to its running backs in the flat, slowing the Bulldogs' offense down considerably.

After giving up 306 yards of total offense to the Bulldogs in the first half, Purdue held them to 134 the rest of the way.

"We did not make many adjustments," Tiller said. "We brought a little more pressure on the ball, but I thought we played at a higher level of intensity."

Georgia had a difficult time with Purdue's adjustments.

"In the second half, Purdue played a two-deep coverage," Greene said. "We had trouble running the ball. You have to hit the zones but we moved it better at the end of the game."

That is, until there was 1:19 left. With the Bulldogs up 27-24 trying to just run out the clock, Phillips poked the ball out of Kregg Lumpkin's hands, and the ball was recovered by Craig Terrill on Georgia's 34. Three plays later, Jones drilled the game-tying field goal with 49 seconds to go.

Purdue's defense nearly came up big in the overtime session, stuffing Lumpkin for no gain just inches from the goal line on third down. But on the next play, Lumpkin was able to squeeze through, giving Georgia the lead and eventually the win. A key pass interference call against the Boilermakers, which Tiller didn't agree with, helped keep the drive going for the Bulldogs.

Tiller took little solace from his team's comeback.

"We don't have moral victories at Purdue," he said. "We never have, never will. This was a tough loss for us."

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