Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Trey Palmer’s Historic Show not Enough to Overcome Defensive Woes

October 16, 2022

Statistically speaking, Nebraska shouldn’t have been remotely close to Purdue on the scoreline. The Boilermakers held not only an edge in every statistical category but created a chasm between the two teams.

Purdue gained 608 total yards to Nebraska’s 476 yards. That helped tally 38 first downs with 9 of 18 third downs converted and both fourth down conversions Purdue attempted. The Boilermakers ran 101 plays, found the red zone seven times (scoring on six of them) and held the ball for 42 minutes and 42 seconds. The Huskers, meanwhile, had 15 first downs and were 3 of 9 moving the sticks on third down. They ran just 52 plays, scored all four times in the red zone and had the ball for just 17 minutes and 18 seconds.

Devin Mockobee, Purdue’s redshirt freshman, outran Nebraska. He accrued 178 yards on his own while the Huskers collective ran for 122 (Anthony Grant finished with 35 yards and a touchdown). Quarterback Aidan O’Connnell threw for 391 yards and four touchdowns with just an initial red zone interception.

Nebraska endured the statistical onslaught and found potential opportunity in the fourth quarter because Trey Palmer did things no Husker receiver has ever done. The junior deep-ball threat finished with 237 receiving yards and two touchdowns on 13 targets and seven catches. That established a new school record for single-game receiving yards, breaking JD Spielman’s mark of 208 yards.

“We knew they had trouble running with Trey,” interim head coach Mickey Joseph said. “So we knew we had Trey in the secondary and he was able to run by them, but I take my hat off to Trey, he had a great game today. I take my hat off to him, he played hard.”

Palmer started modest with a short 3-yard haul on the opening drive. Then came a quick 10-yard spring that stretched the defense and moved the chains. But that was his entire first half — a bottled athlete teeming with energy. Coaches went into the second half knowing their openings.

The LSU transfer immediately exploited those openings. He beat each defender for a 37-yard touchdown haul on the opening drive of the second half. Ten minutes later he left a defender several yards behind and Casey Thompson dropped a ball directly into his lap for a 72-yard score. Palmer later caught a ball at his own 44 and ran it down to the Purdue 6 — the Huskers were in the end zone two plays later.

Technically, Palmer was Nebraska’s leading rusher as well. He ran a reverse 60 yards on his only carry into the red zone. By doing so, Palmer became the first person in the 21st century with 225 receiving yards or more and 50 rushing yards or more in the same game.

“I don’t have goals,” Palmer said. “I go day by day, get better day by day, get better on my techniques and routes, and when the game comes I just play football.”

On the flip side of Palmer’s historic night was defensive relapse. The Husker defense gave up points on eight of 13 drives. Five of those eight drives ended in touchdowns. When the offense was clicking the defense just needed to make a stop. But the Huskers weren’t able to get off the field.

“Seeing the hard work the offense is putting on, we want to capitalize,” edge rusher Ochaun Mathis said. “We were just looking for our opportunity to get the ball back to the offense. Every time they do something good we want to capitalize on it.”

Purdue got the ball with 5:55 left after a Palmer-sparked Husker touchdown drive and milked the rest of the game. They came close, forcing the Boilermakers into desperate fourth-down conversions, but the Huskers came away with a loss going into a bye week.

Nebraska has an extra week to heal and learn. There’s a week of work and reflection before the Husker return to Memorial Stadium and welcome a ranked Illinois team. That gives Illinois, who also has a bye next week, an extra few days to figure out how to contain Palmer.

In a night of highlights that etched him into the school record books, he didn’t have a favorite. And it wasn’t because he loved them all equally.

“I ain’t got no favorite play,” he said. “We lost.”

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