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Nebraska 25, Purdue 24: It Will Get Better

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Another game, another close loss.

Nebraska v Purdue Photo by Bobby Ellis/Getty Images

Purdue has now lost three straight games by 11 total points and it sucks.

The Boilers have lost in a variety of ways:

· Against Wisconsin it was dominated in virtually every aspect of the game, but scratched and clawed by its fingernails to get within 8 yards of actually tying the game before a critical interception.

· Against Rutgers it was the opposite. Purdue dominated every category statistically except the one that actually matters: points. The Scarlet Knights used two plays and got 14 of them. Purdue used 85 offensive plays and managed 12 of them.

· Against Nebraska Purdue did a lot right and a lot wrong. It pushed ahead and looked like it was going to pull it off, but Tanner Lee led an impressive late drive and snatched a victory away in the final 16 seconds.

All of these losses sting. Purdue let a monumental upset get away in Madison because it could not convert in the red zone. It was upset in Piscataway because of drops, penalties, and failed conversions. Tonight Purdue lost because it couldn’t make one more play and its thin depth became an issue.

Lee threw for 431 yards and two touchdowns tonight, but for most of the game they were empty yards. Purdue absorbed them, with several passes coming centimeters short of either being intercepted or tipped away, and surrendered only field goals for the first 45 minutes. When Jackson Anthrop caught a David Blough pass and scored with 14:23 left Purdue was ahead 24-12 and looked in full control.

A key injury had already occurred, however. Da’Wan Hunte, Purdue’s top corner, was knocked from the game. In came the seldom used Kamal Hardy. Hardy played hard, but Nebraska was clearly picking on him. Tyler Hoppes scored on the following drive, and the teams traded punts. Purdue’s defense was giving it every chance by completely shutting down the running game, but Nebraska kept picking away.

When Purdue forced a turnover on downs with 3:44 left I felt we needed three first downs to close it. Nebraska had two timeouts, and we needed to run clock, but I didn’t trust our passing game. D.J. Knox quickly provided the first 1st down with two runs. We erased their timeouts with a couple of runs, then took the clock down to 1:29 before having to punt.

It should have been enough, but we gave them a chance. A beleaguered pass defense that had bent, but not broken, then broke. Joe Schopper only managed 37 yards on the punt and Lee went 70 yards in 8 plays. He completed 7 of 8 passes, the final going 13 yards to Stanley Morgan Jr. for the game winner. It broke Purdue hearts, and a game that was all but won was lost.

So how should we feel? Purdue has three legitimate victories, four moral ones, and one stinkbomb at Rutgers. There is little doubt that we’re a much better football team from a year ago. We have seen tangible improvement on both sides of the ball, but it seems that depth and talent are wearing on us as the calendar turns to November.

To some, this doesn’t matter. They have already quit:

Purdue was nothing short of a tire fire before this season. Many doubted we would win three games, and after racing out to a 3-2 start expectations naturally lifted. The last three games have been stomach punches of different varieties, but they have shown what was hidden early: Purdue is still a team of limited talent and depth. When Hunte left and Ja’Whuan Bentley was out there were real concerns about who would replace them. For most of the night we couldn’t trust receivers to actually catch passes. When we needed critical first downs late a gassed offensive line couldn’t get enough of a push.

And now Purdue sits at 3-5 with some questions answered, as the offense was better tonight, but others still pending. A bowl game now sits on a razor’s edge after dropping two very winnable games in a row. If we lose next week at home to Illinois, who is by a wide margin the worst team in the conference, there will be real questions.

But there is still growth. This team is learning some hard lessons, and a win next week keeps the bowl hopes alive, at minimum, through game 11. Even if we were to beat the Illini and later Indiana a 5-7 season where we were competitive in every game is a huge step forward.

That’s the thing to remember: right now things suck, but it will get better. It is already getting better. Even in the last two weeks those outside the program have seen that. We need to see that too.