WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Nebraska blocked two punts and picked off two passes, but it wasn’t enough on the road. NU fell 31-27 to Purdue on Saturday.
Nebraska drops to 4-5 on the year and is in serious jeopardy of not finishing the season .500 or better for the third straight year. That’s not happened since 1959 to 1961, which is also the last time Nebraska failed to qualify for a bowl for three straight seasons.
Purdue is now 3-5. It is the second loss in Nebraska’s last three trips to West Lafayette, Indiana.
The two offensive-minded coaches squared off in a fourth-quarter shootout. Nebraska took a 24-21 lead on an Adrian Martinez touchdown run, but third-string walk-on Aidan O’Connell led Purdue right back down the field, and the Boilermakers scored on a reverse to take a 31-27 lead with 1:08 left.
Martinez and Nebraska got the ball back at the 20-yard line with 61 seconds left. On fourth-and-3, Martinez’s throw fell incomplete.
Martinez was back at quarterback after a knee injury sidelined him for two games. He was so-so, completing 22 of 39 passes for 247 yards and one interception. On a bum knee, he led NU with 58 rushing yards, and ran in a fourth-quarter score to give NU a 20-17 lead. Wan’Dale Robinson had 21 total touches with 29 rushing yards and 46 receiving yards. He was not in on Nebraska's final offensive play.
Nebraska’s offense — like so many times this season — was discombobulated, despite Martinez’s return. They started four drives in Purdue territory, but scored just three points. In the first three quarters, Nebraska had the ball inside the 5-yard line three times and twice settled for a Barret Pickering field goal, coming away with six points rather than 14.
Those lost eight points proved to be important.
Purdue’s offense wasn’t much better, but former walk-on Jack Plummer managed the Purdue offense well enough. He threw two picks on his first 15 attempts, but recovered, finishing with 242 yards and two touchdowns. The Boilermakers entered the game with the second-worst rushing offense in the country, but ran for 145, led by Doerue King’s 71 yards and one touchdown.
Nebraska took a 10-0 lead early in the first half, then fell apart on both sides of the ball. Purdue put together an 89-yard touchdown drive and a 96-yard touchdown drive back to back in the second quarter to take the lead 14-10 halftime lead.
Scott Frost told the Husker Sports Network he hoped his team would flip the script in the second half, and early on they did.
Nebraska came out of the half and stuffed Purdue on third down, then drove into the red zone. Martinez threw on fourth-and-5 instead of running for a first down, but was bailed out on a pass interference call. Nebraska got the ball at the 3-yard-line, and for the second time, Frost elected not to run the ball. A third-down pass from Martinez was swatted away in the end zone, and NU settled again for a field goal inside the 5-yard line and closed the gap to 14-13.
Eric Lee blocked the ensuing punt — the second punt block of the day for NU — giving Nebraska excellent field position and a chance to retake the lead. Instead of kicking a 47-yard field goal, Frost went for it on fourth-and-6 and Martinez threw incomplete, turning it over on downs.
After that, Frost and Purdue coach Jeff Brohm’s offenses kicked into gear for a fourth-quarter shootout.
Plummer made NU pay, completing three passes for 46 yards to put Purdue in field goal range on the ensuing drive. JD Dellinger knocked in a 44-yard field goal to extend the lead to 17-13.
Nebraska immediately responded with an 11-play drive that ended with a 2-yard score by Martinez on the ground to retake the lead 20-17 in the fourth.
Purdue punched right back, converting three third downs on a drive to retake the lead. Plummer ran for 14 on second down, but was slow to get up after a tough hit by JoJo Domann. O’Connell came in and handed off to Doerue, who vaulted into the end zone from seven yards, closing out a 13-play, 78-yard drive for a 24-20 lead with 6:50 left.
On third-and-5, Martinez hit Robinson for seven. On third-and-10, he hit Spielman for 42 yards to put the ball on the 18. On first-and-goal, Martinez jumped in for the score for a 27-24 lead, fist pumping on the jog back to the sideline.
But Purdue wasn’t done. O’Connell, the third-string quarterback on Purdue’s roster, started dealing in a three-minute drill, completing six straight passes to put the ball at the 13-yard line. On third-and-5 from the 9-yard line, Brohm called a reverse for David Bell, who walked into the end zone untouched, giving Purdue the 31-27 lead with 1:08 left.
That would prove to be the game winner.