Photo by Pat Radigan
Story by Pat Radigan
Huskers stay within striking range before fourth quarter flurry caps comeback
In any sort of “real” rally, it’s usually pretty easy to pick out the play, or two, that makes the difference between what could have been and a team’s quest for glory.
On Saturday night for the Nebraska football team, putting a thumb on what went right for the Huskers is more complicated than simply analyzing Tanner Lee’s fourth-quarter flurry. Because while those two touchdowns marked the final touches on the comeback, it was the sum of all the parts of Nebraska’s scrappy effort that allowed the Cornhuskers to sneak out of West Lafayette with the win.
Brown 44-yard FG
DRIVE: 5 plays | 37 yards | 2:11
Worship 4-yard run
DRIVE: 5 plays | 45 yards | 1:38
Brown 21-yard FG
DRIVE: 11 plays | 65 yards | 5:26
Blough 5-yard run
DRIVE: 12 plays | 86 yards | 3:52
Brown 37-yard FG
DRIVE: 9 plays | 55 yards | 5:03
Evans 20-yard FG
DRIVE: 11 plays | 71 yards | 3:33
Brown 25-yard FG
DRIVE: 10 plays | 67 yards | 4:18
Anthrop 14-yard rec
DRIVE: 8 plays | 57 yards | 2:43
Hoppes 27-yard rec
DRIVE: 7 plays | 70 yards | 3:20
Morgan 13-yard rec
DRIVE: 8 plays | 70 yards | 1:08
“We didn’t play perfectly at all, as we know, there were a lot of rough spots,” said NU coach Mike Riley after the win. “The kids never blinked, neither did the coaches… This team’s had it in them all the time, it just hasn’t come out.”
It may have taken three quarters for that “good stuff” to “come out” against the Boilermakers, yet it was what the Huskers did before that frantic rally, that laid the groundwork for what was to come. Even when the ground game wasn’t working.
Nebraska managed just 8 rushing yards in the first half, which included Luke McNitt getting stuffed on 4th-and-1 on a quick give to the fullback. That failed fourth down turned into Purdue’s first touchdown of the game, and was symbolic of Nebraska’s year to date: Small errors coming back to bite the Big Red in a big way.
Then the Boilermakers started to give.
Marcus Newby delivered the first body blow, when he came roaring off the right side of the line to drag Purdue’s Richie Worship down for a loss of two. Worship’s 260-pound frame had been the wrecking ball that allowed the Boilermakers to punch in a couple of first-half touchdowns, but the 2-yard loss led to an incompletion, and suddenly it was Purdue’s turn to settle for a field goal.
The first real cracks came with the insertion of Jaylin Bradley. The freshman looked to be a breath of fresh air in the first half, before a nice run off the left side was negated by a holding penalty. His second carry would not be called back, though, as Bradley continued turning the momentum following the goal line stand.
Following a 23-yard completion to open NU’s drive, Bradley took a first down handoff for 13 yards and doubled Nebraska’s rushing output in a single play. A 20-yard scamper by Bradley brought the ball into the red zone for the Huskers, and although NU would settle for a field goal, it was another body blow landed heading into the fourth quarter.
Purdue wasn’t done swinging though.
The first pass interference call got the home side moving, and the second bailed the Boilermakers out of a 4th-and-19 when a fake punt turned into 15 yards and a first down. Nebraska had a chance to bend instead of breaking, but a 14-yard touchdown pass snapped the Huskers this time after holding on for a goal line stop on Purdue’s previous possession.
That’s when those body blows came in handy. Newby’s tackle kept it a one-score game, while the burst by Bradley, and the subsequent field goal, kept just enough pressure on Purdue. Even with the Boilermakers’ answer, two touchdowns would still be enough to win the game for Nebraska, and the Cornhuskers had 14:23 to put the pieces together.
Bradley had already matched his career output in terms of rushing yards, and added his first career reception on Nebraska’s next drive to help the Huskers start to turn the tide. His first reception went for exactly 10 yards and a first down, while Bradley left no doubt on a 13-yard reception to keep the chains moving.
The Huskers continued their measured swings with another pass to a running back, a 12-yard check down to Mikale Wilbon. With Purdue trying to adapt to Nebraska’s newfound production, Tanner Lee delivered the first punch.
Lee had a defender in his face, and had to side step to get his pass off. Throwing off his back foot, Lee got enough on the pass to give Tyler Hoppes a chance, with the senior tight end winning the battle in the air to pull in a 27-yard score. It had taken 48:57 of game time to find the endzone, yet here Nebraska was, one more score from taking the lead.
The stage was set following a 3-and-out from Purdue on the following drive. Nebraska was confident enough that Riley burned a timeout trying to coax the replay official to spot a potential turnover. Even though the play was never even reviewed, the Huskers were looking good with 10:03 left.
Tension then reared its head again, as Nebraska went 3-and-out itself. The Huskers held, and got the ball back with more than enough time. Nebraska even managed to get the ball inside Purdue’s redzone thanks to a 26-yard completion to JD Spielman and a 15-yard facemask penalty.
Nebraska got cute, and an attempted reverse was stuffed for no gain. Bradley took NU’s final handoff for 4 yards on the next play. Despite the short field and two tries to get 6 yards, though, another attempt to go Spielman’s way on fourth down fell incomplete.
That left just 3:44 for Purdue to see out to hold on for a win. But the Huskers weren’t done swinging.
When Purdue picked up a first down after two carries, Nebraska found itself in danger of letting the game slip away. One more first down and it was over. A pair of 1-yard rushes brought up third down. Purdue gave the ball back to Worship, however, it was Nebraska’s bruiser, senior defensive tackle Mick Stoltenberg, who got the stop the Huskers needed.
That left 1:22 on the clock for Nebraska to find an answer, and the Huskers went to work in masterful fashion.
The first play was another check down, with Devine Ozigbo able to win a footrace and get out of bounds to stop the clock after picking up 7 yards. Hoppes was open on the next play, and again got out of bounds after Lee fired a laser through a tight gap for the completion.
After a completion to Demornay Pierson-El, and another stopped clock due to Pierson-El making it out of bounds, the ball went back to Ozigbo. This time, a Purdue defender met the Nebraska tailback as he approached the sideline. With the line judge carefully watching for forward progress, Ozigbo powered through the tackle and wriggled free to barely make it out of bounds and stop the clock.
Another completion to Spielman brought Nebraska back into the redzone, before Lee again checked down to Ozigbo as the clock moved toward the final 30 seconds. This time, Ozigbo would not make it to the sideline, but the senior was still able to avoid a tackle, and keep his footing to extend the play.
With no timeouts, Nebraska relied on an incompletion to kill the clock and set up the final play.
And although it was Morgan’s 13-yard reception with 14 seconds to go, and another perfectly placed throw by Lee, that delivered the final punch, it would not have happened without working the body. Had a knee gone down before they reached the sidelines, or Purdue punched in another touchdown, the final play never would have been possible.
But after a few weeks of learning how to keep swinging, it was finally Nebraska’s turn to land a knockout blow.