After Nebraska’s loss to Indiana, head coach Scott Frost said the Huskers “seem to find new and innovative ways to give a game away.”
That rang true in Nebraska’s 31-27 loss to a 2-6 Purdue team that had almost nothing going its way.
Coming into the game, the Boilermakers were without starting quarterback Elijah Sindelar and explosive wide receiver Rondale Moore, and they somehow ended the game even more depleted. After freshman quarterback Jack Plummer went out with an injury, third-string sophomore quarterback Aidan O’Connell came into the game and went 6-7 for 62 yards and led Purdue’s final touchdown drive.
Against the odds, the Boilermakers made things work and came out with a win. On the other side, Nebraska had every chance to win, and they didn’t take advantage.
With sophomore starting quarterback Adrian Martinez back in action, the Huskers started hot again. On the first play from scrimmage, Martinez threw a deep pass to a wide-open JD Spielman, who reeled it in with one hand and ran for a gain of 40. Nebraska didn’t score on the drive, but followed it up by forcing a Purdue three-and-out.
On the next drive, the Husker offense faced another fourth down inside the Purdue 40-yard line. This time they went for it, and Martinez hit senior receiver Kanawai Noa for a 34-yard gain to get the Huskers inside the five. Two plays later, junior running back Dedrick Mills ran in for a 1-yard score.
On those first two drives, the Huskers gained 92 yards. For the rest of the half, they would only manage 88 more.
Later in the quarter, perhaps one of the most exciting plays of the first half happened when 325-pound nose tackle Darrion Daniels spun off a block and intercepted a Purdue shovel pass, taking it back to the 2-yard line. However, Nebraska followed it up with an incompletion, a sack and a Martinez run to the one-yard line before taking a delay of game penalty and opting to kick a field goal.
The Huskers started their next two drives in plus-territory as well after junior safety Eli Sullivan blocked a punt and senior cornerback Lamar Jackson pulled down an interception. Martinez threw an interception following the blocked punt, and Nebraska gained no yards and was forced to punt after Jackson’s interception.
Purdue took advantage of Nebraska’s inability to pull away, taking a 14-10 lead into the half after two consecutive touchdown drives of 89 yards and 96 yards, respectively. The Boilermakers also converted four total third downs during those drives.
Nebraska passed midfield on all but one of its first half drives, but only managed 10 points despite the defense routinely setting the offense up well.
“We gave too many chances away. Again, that’s on all of us to figure out how not to do that,” Frost said postgame.
Coming out of the half, it seemed the Huskers were going to put their third-quarter woes in the past. The Blackshirts forced a three-and-out, and Nebraska moved the ball inside Purdue’s 10-yard line. Mills took the first down carry for 4 yards, but the Huskers went to the air on the next two plays, losing a yard and settling for a field goal to cut the deficit to 14-13.
Nebraska’s defense got another stop on the next drive and blocked its second punt of the game, this time courtesy of senior safety Eric Lee Jr.. The Husker offense couldn’t take advantage yet again, finishing the drive off with an overthrow from Martinez on fourth down.
By the end of the third quarter, the Boilermakers extended their lead to 17-13 and held Nebraska to 34 third quarter yards.
In the final quarter, both offenses heated up. Facing third-and-15 on the first play of the fourth quarter, Martinez hit sophomore receiver Kade Warner for an 18-yard gain, and capped the drive off with a 2-yard touchdown run from Martinez.
Purdue came right back down the field to score again and retake a 24-20 lead, ending it with an easy touchdown run from freshman running back King Doerue. The Huskers struck back, as a 42-yard catch and run from Spielman on third down helped set up another short touchdown run from Martinez.
However, on Purdue’s last drive, they made it look easy. O’Connell completed six passes to lead the Boilermakers down the field, along with picking up a crucial first down on a QB sneak on third-and-one. To end the drive, freshman wide receiver David Bell walked into the endzone on third-and five after running the ball on a reverse.
Despite having over a minute left on the clock, Nebraska couldn’t put together one last scoring drive, as the Boilermakers tipped a Martinez pass on fourth down to force an incompletion and seal the game.
The Huskers were without freshman star Wan’Dale Robinson on the final drive, as he was shaken up on the previous scoring drive.
Purdue outplayed Nebraska to end the game, but the Huskers could have avoided the situation entirely had they taken advantage of scoring opportunities in the first three quarters.
This was the second straight game the Huskers have lost by one score, as crucial mistakes hurt the Huskers as well last week against Indiana.
“The last two games are games that we easily could’ve won,” Frost said. “And we didn’t for a lot of reasons, and there’s stuff we all can do better.”
With their third straight loss, the Huskers will head into their second bye week with a 4-5 record. With three games remaining on the schedule, including games against Wisconsin and Iowa, Nebraska’s bowl hopes look to be fading as it needs to win two more games to become bowl eligible.
After the bye week, Nebraska will return to Memorial Stadium to face Wisconsin on Nov. 16. The time and TV network is yet to be announced.