WEST LAFAYETTE, Indiana — A cold wind whipped in their faces. Their bodies were sore. Answers were few.
But the half dozen or so Huskers who spoke to reporters after the game agreed on one thing: It doesn't get any more frustrating than this.
Defensive end Ben Stille lamented that what amounts to a year-round job for players comes down to losing over "stupid stuff." Tight end Austin Allen said he can predict the kind of negative talk on social media that will come with three games remaining.
"People are going to hate on us," Allen said. "I'm going to get on the bus right now and I'm going to unfollow all the crap out there. They don't got anything good to say about us, but it is what it is."
Receiver Kade Warner said the mood after the Purdue loss was "heads up" despite all the missed opportunities. The team still has three chances to win twice and qualify for a bowl. Cornerback Dicaprio Bootle added that the joy has to be in the little things — after all, an injury could take football away from him at any time.
"We just gotta really find a way, find a formula, to winning," Bootle said. "How do we win these close games? How do we step on our opponents' necks when we need to step on their necks early in the game. We just need to keep the enthusiasm."
Shuffled secondary hangs in
The last time Bootle played safety, it was 2017 and he had limited duties in a blowout loss to Ohio State. The defensive back will have much better memories of playing deep Saturday, albeit in another defeat.
With safety Cam Taylor-Britt out sick, Bootle — a starter at cornerback the last two years — knew he would have more of a dual role against Purdue.
"This game I did everything that a safety would do," Bootle said. "Obviously I was a little more prepared this time around. With growth and experience and knowing the defense that you're in, I was able to go out there and operate."
The junior was the lone high safety at times. On other plays, he was back with either Marquel Dismuke or Eli Sullivan. Braxton Clark made his first start at corner opposite Lamar Jackson. And Eric Lee subbed in for dime packages and at other moments throughout the game as well.
The shuffled secondary, mostly a response to injuries as opposed to game-specific strategy, generally held up despite a few lengthy Purdue touchdown drives late in both halves. Jackson, in his normal corner role, picked off a pass too.
NU has already played almost the entire season without planned starting safety Deontai Williams, who suffered a shoulder injury in the opener.
"We had guys in different spots today," Bootle said. "I think that just shows how versatile our room is and that you can put anybody anywhere. We can depend on everybody in our room."
Added Lee: "A lot of our guys are interchangeable. ... I think it's a testament to how Coach (Travis Fisher) trusts all of us and how well they prepare us."
Rookie holds his own
Clark figured he held up pretty well in his first major action as a Husker.
Clark got the start at cornerback to replace Bootle who moved to safety to replace Taylor-Britt. Clark, a redshirt freshman from Orlando, played the majority of the game.
“It’s not a personal game, it’s a team game, so I’m not too worried about it right now,” Clark said of his performance, which included three tackles and a tackle for loss.
Lee said Purdue wasn’t able to take advantage of Clark’s inexperience.
"I'm definitely proud of him,” Lee said. “They tried to go at him deep a couple times. He didn't let anything happen. We knew definitely going into the game they'd try to test the young kid."
DBs block punts
The approach is the same whenever Nebraska's punt-return unit rushes a kick. Everyone sprints like they'll be unblocked and hope someone is.
A pair of defensive backs were Saturday. Sullivan partially blocked a first-quarter punt that went 20 yards. Then Lee fully stopped one in the third — his first blocked punt at any level of football — that set up Nebraska's eventual turnover on downs.
"I just tried to come down as tight to color as I could off the person I was covering and off the shield," Lee said. "I closed my eyes a little bit, just felt my hand hurt a lot, heard the sound and made the play."
No Wan'Dale on final drive
Freshman Wan’Dale Robinson was near the giant offensive huddle on the field and wanted to play. A trainer said no.
On Nebraska’s final offensive drive of a 31-27 loss to Purdue, a trainer kept Robinson out of the game, coach Scott Frost said, because he wasn’t yet ready to return to action.
“He was saying he’s available and the trainer said he wasn’t,” Frost said.
Robinson was in and out of Saturday’s contest with an undisclosed injury — at one point he clutched his back — and he finished with 14 carries for 29 yards and seven catches for 46 yards.
NU’s running back and return options were limited by a 74-man roster the Big Ten requires on road trips. In Robinson’s absence on kickoff returns, he was replaced by Brody Belt, and, as a running back, he was spelled once by freshman Rahmir Johnson, who did not have a carry. Nebraska used more of a split-back run game that, at times, included a tight end or a receiver; wideout JD Spielman had three carries for 23 yards out of the scheme.
Brees lights fire under Boilers
Depending on the generation of Purdue fans you ask, Drew Brees is either the best or second-best quarterback in school history.
Bob Griese still gets plenty of support in West Lafayette, but it was Brees who was in town Saturday to watch his alma mater play Nebraska.
Brees was able to be at Ross-Ade Stadium because the New Orleans Saints, the NFL team he has played for since 2006, are on their bye week.
Purdue coach Jeff Brohm said Brees spoke to the team before the game, and the Super Bowl-champion quarterback was passionate in his presentation.
“He talked to our team before the game,” Brohm said. “(He) said some tremendous words that I think our team listened to and took note of. We’re appreciative of everything he does for our program.”
Freshman running back King Doerue said the way Brees worked the room left a positive impression on him.
“One thing that stood out to me was he talked to every position group,” Doerue said. “He was going down the line, talking to wide receivers, DBs. When he talked to the running backs, he was just like he loves us and how we catch the ball, run the ball, we block.
“That just motivated me to do my job. It means a lot.”
Young RBs fluster Huskers
Doerue had already scored two touchdowns against Nebraska, so it wasn’t a surprise that he drew the attention of the Blackshirts on the fourth quarter play that put Purdue ahead with 1:08 remaining in the game.
The freshman running back from Amarillo, Texas, was tackled behind the line of scrimmage by a Nebraska defender. Only one problem with that — Doerue didn’t have the ball.
“My job was to sell the fake, and that’s what I did,” Doerue said. “We knew it was man coverage, so it left David wide open and he made a play.”
David is fellow freshman David Bell, who took a toss from quarterback Aidan O’Donnell on a reverse and went nine yards for the game-winning TD. Bell had two linemen ahead of him to screen out two other Nebraska defenders who were trailing the play.
“Big credit to my o-line, they played great today,” Doerue said. “They’re just getting better week by week. We’re being more decisive in our runs. If we see something, we hit it, we don’t second guess ourselves.”
» Johnson, the true freshman running back, appeared in his third game this season but did not register any carries or catches. Making their Husker debuts as freshmen were linebacker Garrett Snodgrass and running back Zach Weinmaster. Snodgrass, a York grad was on the kickoff return unit. Weinmaster returned a kickoff 30 yards moments before halftime.
» Eight underclassmen made the trip to Purdue who didn't travel to Minnesota. Those are offensive lineman Brant Banks, reserve quarterback Matt Masker, kicker Barret Pickering, defensive back Noa Pola-Gates, defensive linemen Ty Robinson and Casey Rogers, Snodgrass and Weinmaster.
» Nebraska's postgame interviews were outside the southwest portion of Ross-Ade Stadium, allowing many fans to watch from a brick balcony above. During Scott Frost's availability, one Purdue fan screamed, "Go back to (Bo) Pelini!"
» True freshman and Omaha Burke grad Chris Hickman appeared on Nebraska's second offensive series in what was his second career collegiate game. The tight end lined up to the left of quarterback Adrian Martinez in the backfield and was used as a kickout blocker on a Dedrick Mills 3-yard run.
Two plays later, Hickman was the target of a low Martinez pass that was later ruled to be a lateral out of bounds that went for a 7-yard loss.