West Lafayette, Ind. — Bowling Green coach Dino Babers gambled Saturday.
Matt Johnson and Travis Greene produced the big payoff.
After Greene took a handoff, he side-stepped one defender on his way to the hole and finished his 12-yard touchdown run by bowling over two more Purdue defenders with 9 seconds left to give the Falcons a 35-28 victory.
“Everybody in the stadium says you are going to throw it,” Babers said. “If you run it, and it doesn’t work, I have to stand in front of you guys and say I am a dum-dum. It did work, so I get to smile. I thought it was going to work.”
By making sure the play worked, the Falcons (2-2) have beaten two Big Ten schools in three weeks. It’s the first time since 2003 they’ve beaten multiple power-conference teams in one season.
This time, Bowling Green didn’t even follow its traditional script.
While Johnson entered the weekend leading the Football Bowl Subdivision in passing touchdowns and yardage and extended his own single-season school record by topping the 400-yard mark for the fourth time this season, he wasn’t his usually efficient self. Johnson went 43 of 59 for 402 yards with one TD pass, one interception and took two sacks.
Greene also didn’t have to play the decoy.
When Purdue’s defense forced Johnson to throw short, Greene became one of the feature attractions and responded like a star. He caught six passes for 75 yards, ran 11 times for 70 yards for two scores and executed the decisive run just like he envisioned it.
“I made my reads and looked at who I wanted to make miss,” Greene said. “Everything just happened right after that. It helps having our passing attack. If a team is going to play the pass, we are going to run the ball.”
Purdue (1-3) made that strategy look good, too.
First-time starter David Blough was masterful at avoiding the negative plays, going 12 of 20 on third and fourth downs. He also had a higher passer rating than Johnson after finishing 20 of 39 with 340 yards and two TD passes and one touchdown run. His only interception came with 3 seconds left in the game.
The difference Saturday came down to two 10-point swings.
With the score tied at 14 late in the first half, Purdue’s Paul Griggs missed a 19-yard field goal wide right. Then, with the scored tied 28 late in the fourth quarter, Griggs pushed a 32-yard field goal to the right again.
Each time, Johnson responded by taking the Falcons on 80-yard scoring drives to retake the lead — the last one being aided by two 15-yard penalties on the Boilermakers’ defense.
“You’ve got to be able to finish (drives),” Purdue coach Darrell Hazell said.
But the Boilermakers refused to go away.
Blough’s first career touchdown run tied the score at 7. His first career TD pass tied the score at 14.
After the first of Donovan Wilson’s two scoring runs made it 21-14 at halftime, the Boilermakers tied the score again on a 5-yard TD run from Jarrett Burgess early in the third quarter.
Bowling Green answered Johnson’s 4-yard TD pass to Ronnie Moore, and Blough tied it again at 28 when he hooked up with Gregory Phillips on a 62-yard TD pass.
But just when it looked like the Boilermakers were about to break through, Griggs missed the field goal, the penalties hurt and Johnson made sure the last series worked.
“The good thing about that call was that we were running the clock down as well,” Johnson said. “Even if Travis did not get into the end zone, we were going to be able to kick the field goal for the win.”
Phillips finished with four catches for 92 yards.
Bowling Green’s Gehrig Dieter caught 10 passes for 96 yards, while Moore had nine receptions for 74 yards.
Purdue opens Big Ten play at Michigan State next week.