In a game that had to end with one team having the ball last, Purdue did. The Boilermakers built a 17-point lead in the first half and withstood a bevy of big plays from the Huskers to beat Nebraska 43-37. The Boilermakers rolled to more than 600 yards and were 3 yards worse per play than Nebraska in a wild one in West Lafayette.
The first half didn’t lack for action, but much of it benefitted the black-and-gold. After taking the opening kickoff, Purdue zipped down to Nebraska’s 32-yard line before being turned away by a Malcolm Hartzog interception in the end zone. Purdue would build a 10-0 lead on its next two offensive drives, dominating the first quarter.
Or at least 99% of it. On the final play of the first quarter, quarterback Casey Thompson hit wide receiver Oliver Martin for a 45-yard gain to the Boilermakers’ 13. That spurred a 10-0 run of the Huskers’ own, boosted by a blocked punt from Phalen Sanford.
Purdue looked to have put the game in a stranglehold after that, scoring 17 points in just over 5 minutes of game clock. After a 75-yard touchdown drive to make it 17-10, Purdue intercepted Thompson on the Husker half of the field and turned it into a field goal. Thompson was sacked twice on the following drive, losing 17 yards, and a short punt set the Boilermakers up with a short field again. Running back Devin Mockobee carried on all seven plays of the drive, punching it in from 1 yard out. He had 115 yards rushing at the half.
Nebraska earned at least a little momentum back, covering 50 yards in five plays to get a 43-yard Timmy Bleekrode field goal to make it 27-13 entering the half.
In what might be becoming something of a Mickey Joseph trait, the Huskers kept it rolling to start the second half. Nebraska received to start the first half. A 30-yard pass to tight end Travis Vokolek on third-and-6 got the drive rolling. Thompson then found Trey Palmer for a 37-yard touchdown to pull Nebraska within a touchdown.
Defense answered the call from there, getting a stop and, on its next drive, keeping Purdue out of the red zone, which resulted in a missed field goal from 41 yards. Palmer picked up 60 yards on the ground on a reverse to open the next drive, but it stalled inside the Purdue 5 after Thompson missed a wide-open Alante Brown on third-and-goal. Nebraska settled for a field goal.
Purdue struck quickly with a touchdown, but the Huskers were even quicker to answer as Thompson found Palmer streaking wide open up the sideline for a 72-yard touchdown to make it 34-30, Purdue, entering the fourth quarter.
The Husker offense, couldn’t keep up its 15-yard-per-play average from the third quarter, not surprisingly. Trailing 37-30 in the fourth quarter, Thompson throw his second interception of the game. The Boilermakers got a field goal off the turnover and followed it up with a touchdown to seemingly put the game away. But Palmer wasn’t done yet. A 64-yard catch-and-run led to another Nebraska touchdown to pull the Huskers within six.
The game came down to a fourth-and-1 near midfield. With one timeout remaining, Nebraska had to get a stop but a designed pass play ended in an Aidan O’Connell scramble for 3 yards effectively ending things.
Palmer finished with 297 total yards, including a school record 237 yards receiving, and two touchdowns. Purdue gained 608 yards while running 101 plays with 42:42 time of possession. Mockobee, a walk-on, rushed 30 times for 178 yards with a touchdown.
On to some notes, thoughts and observations from Saturday:
- The Huskers shuffled things around on the offensive line. Broc Bando was out with an injury, so Henry Lutovsky (RG) and Hunter Anthony (RT) made their first starts at Nebraska. Did the changes help? Not in the first half. Nebraska’s re-worked o-line allowed four sacks (totaling 38 yards in losses) in the first half. The Huskers gave up zero sacks in the second half.
- Linebacker Eteva Mauga-Clements also made his first career start, filling in for injured Luke Reimer. Reimer was the Huskers’ leading tackler entering Saturday, and Nebraska’s other fixture at inside linebacker, Nick Henrich went down with an injury near the end of the first half and did not return.
- Purdue had Nebraska’s defense on skates for much of the first half. The Boilermakers averaged 7.2 yards on first down, which is inadvisable way to try and play defense. Purdue finished the first half with a 54% success rate to the Huskers’ 39%.
- When Thompson wasn’t getting sacked, he was pretty good in the first half, minus a tough interception. The Huskers averaged 15 yards per completion, which looked to be a key number in previous games against Purdue. Nebraska’s best weapon is a big-play passing game, and the Huskers hit for some of those, but those type of plays aren’t all that sustainable to begin with. Much less when 25% of a team’s first-half dropbacks end in a sack. Thompson also had a 31-yard run to help the Huskers get the field goal right before halftime.
- The blocked punt was the Huskers’ third on the season, the most in a season at Nebraska since having four in 2014.
- Nebraska’s streak of holding opponents scoreless in the second half, which started two games ago against Indiana, officially lasted 72:48. The Boilermakers found the end zone with 2:18 remaining in the third quarter to make it 34-23.
- The Huskers averaged 9.2 yards per play to Purdue’s 6.0. That would win most games, but not when the Boilermakers ran 101 plays to Nebraska’s 52.
- One of the hidden keys on Saturday: Purdue converted 50% of its third downs (9-of-18).
- Palmer, with his one carry for 60 yards, ended up as Nebraska’s leading rusher. Top running back Anthony Grant finished with 11 carries for 35 yards.
- Nebraska’s fight after falling behind by 17 in the first half captured the attention of former Nebraska volleyball coach Terry Pettit.
I am impressed Nebraska football. You have my attention.
— Terry Pettit (@TerryPettit1) October 16, 2022
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.