"If we had caught a contested ball or two, maybe we'd be looking a lot different right now too," Purdue head coach Joe Tiller said after his team's loss. "I'm not saying we would have won the game but I don't think the game would have gone the way it went."
But that was not the case in Saturday's game. Boilermaker redshirt freshman quarterback Curtis Painter started his first game Saturday at Camp Randall and was 23 of 44 for 212 yards and a touchdown. But he also threw three interceptions, including two that were returned for touchdowns, and fumbled the ball once.
"I don't have any regrets," Tiller said, about starting Painter. "He did a better job handling the offense, the option part of the game, etcetera today than we've had done all year and he'll get better as time moves along."
Painter started in place of junior Brandon Kirsch, who did not see a snap Saturday. Heading into the game, Tiller said he considered playing Kirsch part of the game. During the game, however, Tiller opted to stick with Painter, wanting the young signal-caller to settle in and do "some positive things."
"Overall, I was pleased with the poise he had. I like his composure. I like the fact that he encouraged his teammates instead of pulling them down," Tiller said. "I think he does a lot of positive things from a leadership point of view and I'm encouraged by that."
Down 31-13 and amidst chants from Badger fans calling for Purdue to go back to West Lafayette, Painter orchestrated a 70-yard, 3-minute, 10-second drive that resulted in a four-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dustin Keller with three seconds remaining in the game.
"It's always nice to be in the end zone," Keller said, "but the biggest part of going is to get the win. Even after the touchdown, I didn't really feel that hype that I usually do.
Painter said he officially found out Saturday that he was starting but said he and Kirsch had taken different reps from the norm in practice that week.
Painter's first interception came in the opening drive of the third quarter, when Badger cornerback Jack Ikegwuonu grabbed a pass intended for Purdue receiver Kyle Ingraham. But on Wisconsin's ensuing drive, the Badgers went three and out, losing six yards.
"The first one, he (Ingraham) ran a route and, I mean, I saw him and everything, I just laid it a little too long to throw it," Painter said. "It was just a bad ball by me."
Painter's second and third interceptions were far more harmful for Purdue. Late in the third quarter, junior free safety Roderick Rogers picked off a pass at the 16-yard line and returned it 84 yards for a touchdown. That gave Wisconsin a 17-13 advantage over the Boilermakers, a lead the Badgers never relinquished.
The second one, Painter said, was forced and should have been thrown out of bounds. He said he was trying to "put a little more air on it and get it over (Rogers) but it was just a bad ball by me."
Painter's third interception, which Ikegwuonu caught and returned 62 yards for a touchdown, added a cushion to Wisconsin's win.
In his first start, Painter had help from Purdue's running game, which put up 216 rushing yards and a touchdown. Of course, he was part of Purdue's multiple-back running game — he contributed 60 yards and a touchdown on 11 rushes. Running back Jerod Void added 54 yards and fellow back Brandon Jones contributed 42 yards. Running back Kory Sheets added 35 rushing yards on just seven carries, but fumbled at the end of a 14-yard run, at Wisconsin's six-yard-line. At the time, Purdue was down 24-13.
"Curtis Painter didn't have anything to do with our fumbling the ball down there on the (six)-yard-line going in to score," Tiller said. "I think as far as we were concerned, from Purdue's point of view, (that was) the most critical part of the game."
Ninkovich earns first start
Defensive end Rob Ninkovich, a senior who transferred from Joliet Junior College after the 2003 season, started his first game as a Boilermaker after spending last year as a reserve at Purdue.
(Matthew Kutz/Badger Nation)
In his first start, he recorded five tackles, including a sack on Wisconsin quarterback John Stocco and another tackle for loss, as well as a pass breakup. But his biggest play of the game was picking off a Stocco pass tipped by defensive tackle Brandon Villarreal.
"We did a good job and put some pressure on (Stocco)," Ninkovich said. "I know he feels us right now because he's probably swelling."
Ninkovich said he enjoys challenges and thus regarded each of Purdue's five turnovers as a challenge for the defense.
Said Ninkovich: "I enjoy it (playing after a turnover), just because of the fact that it's a challenge and when you're given a challenge, you're supposed to perform and when you do that, I think it's much more enjoyable for me to have a turnover like that, three-and-out, get the ball right back."
After the two biggest turnovers of the game, however, Ninkovich and the Purdue defense could only watch from the sideline as Wisconsin defensive backs made their way into the end zone.