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ThotDoc's Brain Droppings on the Purdue Game

Nebraska Prevails over Purdue with Poor Play…Persistence…and Potent Passing

On a cold night in West Lafayette, the Nebraska Cornhuskers rallied from a 12-point fourth quarter deficit to nip the Purdue Boilermakers 25-24 in a game between two sub .500 teams who played like their respective records. Don’t expect this contest to appear on a Big Ten Classics show anytime soon.

The Huskers, who appeared to sleepwalk through three quarters, had 58 offensive plays before discovering the end zone with 11:03 remaining in the game. And when a 4th and 6 fade pass to JD Spielman fell incomplete in the end zone with 3:44 to go and the Huskers trailing 24-19, it seemed that the Huskers were doomed. Especially since a field goal would have made a final possession a bit easier. But credit the Blackshirt defense who managed to get off the field after 5 plays and 2:22 elapsed and save 1:22 for the offense to travel 70 yards (with no timeouts). Tanner Lee distributed the ball to five different receivers on that final drive on 7 for 8 passing, finding Stanley Morgan Jr for a 13-yard scoring strike with just 14 ticks left.

It was a puzzling game that led to a myriad of emotions. Despite two weeks to prepare with the Bye last Saturday, Nebraska appeared flat and fragile both physically and psychologically as seven different Huskers left the field after injury timeouts. Dropped passes plagued both teams and Nebraska could not generate any kind of running attack. Eight yards rushing at half with just two yards on the ground in the second quarter. Prior to this game, Mike Riley's Nebraska teams were 0-7 when rushing for less than 100 yards. With a mere 40 yards in this game, make that now 1-7.

On offense, the Huskers spent three quarters getting in their own way. Four holding calls on offensive lineman (Decker, Conrad with Gates getting two) derailed drives. Tanner Lee got hurried and pounded on several throws and still found open receivers. He threw for a career-high 431 yards in tonight’s game, bettering his 303 yards against Ohio State. That total tied Zac Taylor for the fourth-most in school history. Lee had 192 yds passing in the 4th quarter alone after throwing for 143 yds in the entire first half. It probably helped that Purdue Cornerback Da’Wan Hunte didn’t come out of the locker room after halftime. Kamal Hardy replaced the senior co-captain and Lee threw often in his direction to take advantage of his inexperience. Lee also got away with throwing into tight coverage a few times and managed to avoid an interception. That’s 734 yards passing the last two games without a pick.

Nebraska had five players who each recorded five or more receptions. Stanley Morgan Jr led the way with six catches for 112 yards including the game-winning touchdown. He also had a 46-yard reception on the Husker’s first offensive play. Morgan’s six receptions pushed his career total to 94 catches and moved him into the top 10 on the NU career list. He is also just 35 yards shy of the top 10 on the career yardage chart with 1,409 career yards. This was also his fourth 100-yard receiving game of 2017, tying the Nebraska record for most 100-yard receiving games in a season. Tyler Hoppes set career highs by catching five passes for 105 yards including a 27-yard touchdown reception early in the 4th quarter. He had two more catches of 10+ yards that were nullified by holding penalties. The 100-yard receiving game for Hoppes was the first by a Husker tight end since Sean Hill had three catches for 129 yards vs. Ball State in 2007. De’Mornay Pierson-El caught five passes for 62 yards moving him into the top 20 on the Nebraska career receiving yardage list. Pierson-El now has 1,119 career receiving yards. He also dropped a sure touchdown pass in the second quarter. JD Spielman had a bit of a drop off from his 200-yard record setting performance against OSU, but still managed 6 catches for 70 yards and continues to be a primary target on third downs. Devine Ozigbo had 6 catches for 39 yards, including three on the final scoring drive. True freshman Jaylin Bradley added 3 catches for 31 yards, the first receptions of his career.

Bradley also rushed for a career-high 42 yards, including a career-long 20-yard rush, giving him 73 all-purpose yards for the game. He appeared to be the only back that possessed the ability to get outside the tackles and around the corner. It puzzles me why OC Danny Langsdorf insists on pounding the middle and doesn’t utilize the toss or pitch plays to get outside. Bradley may be a back that could make those plays successful.

Entering this game, Purdue had scored only one offensive touchdown in their previous 8 quarters against Wisconsin and Rutgers. They managed three TDs against the Blackshirts. Purdue entered the game averaging 146.6 rushing yards, and had 123 by halftime, finishing with 199. The defense started the game by forcing four straight punts and ended the game by forcing three more. It was those middle series where they yielded four scores in five possessions that kept the game in doubt. The defense yielded 260 total yards during that period and only 103 yards the rest of the time. Surprisingly, Purdue finished with more rushing than passing yards, and we can thank their receivers for some very fortuitous drops that limited the passing number.

Much maligned cornerback Lamar Jackson finished the game with a team- and career-high seven tackles, bettering his previous career high of five tackles. He was burned a few times but made a couple of great plays on wide receiver screens. Safety Joshua Kalu added six stops and defensive lineman Carlos Davis totaled five. Of the four pass breakups recorded, none were by players in the secondary. Chris Weber had two and Dedrick Young and Freedom Akinmoladun had one each. Ben Stille and Khalil Davis had three tackles a piece and shared a sack. Mo Barry got his first career start at linebacker and despite 3 tackles, had a couple of monumental whiffs. Chris Jones, though back from injury, seems to have lost a step. He made a nice play at the goal line to force a field goal, but on another play, he was beaten so badly that his dive on an attempted tackle wasn’t close enough to even draw a pass interference.

On special teams, Lincoln Southwest grad Isaac Armstrong played exceptionally well as the place-holder as Zack Darlington remained in Lincoln due to an illness. Drew Brown connected on four field goals, including a season-long 44-yarder in the Husker’s initial drive. This was his 21st career field goal of at least 40 yards. With his four tonight, Brown increased his career field goal total to 57, tying his brother, Kris, for second place on the NU career field goals list. He only managed one touchback, though, on 7 kickoffs and one of them was returned 34-yards when the Huskers were trying to establish some 3rd quarter momentum. The ugliest special team play of the night was the fake punt, which was successful as Dicaprio Bootle was flagged for pass interference. I don’t think Bootle even realized it was a fake as was seen laying a block on the intended receiver. The play allowed Purdue to continue what ended up being an 86-yard scoring drive. We also seem to have no punt return threat as De’Mornay Pierson-El had 7 fair catches on 8 total punts.

Any true Nebraska fan is thrilled to witness a victory, especially a road win in the Big Ten. But, even a blind man could see that this team has serious flaws and will likely struggle mightily to win two of the remaining four games in order to achieve bowl eligibility. Mike Riley avoided the final nail in his coaching coffin by eking out the last second win, but newly minted AD Bill Moos wasn’t hired to preside over the moribund mediocrity that seems to characterize the current coaching staff. This week defensive coordinator Bob Diaco stated, “There is no doubt that we are going to create a great defense. We are going to create the best defense in the country. There’s no doubt about that.” Color me doubtful.

Next week the Huskers host a Northwestern team who managed to defeat previously undefeated Michigan State 39-31 in three overtimes. The other NU always manages to play well in Lincoln and Nebraska will have its hands full once again in their quest to stray above .500. It hurts to think that this is where we are at this point. I trust it will be a competitive contest and hope that we can find a way to win yet again, ugly or otherwise. Go Big Red!!

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