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Purdue 28, Nebraska 23: One Game Away

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Hey, Purdue might be a good team.

Purdue v Nebraska Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

Before this year started I felt that a bowl game was a reasonable expectation. Winning the Big Ten West always feels like a pipe dream, but after the last two seasons, just making a bowl game would be a sign of actual, tangible progress for a program that had stalled, then even backslid a little under Jeff Brohm the past two seasons.

That goal is now on the line in the final four games of the year.

It hasn’t always been pretty. Even today, Purdue had two bad field goal misses, dropped a near certain pick-six, gave up some big plays defensively, and had stalled drives. In the end, it scored more points than Nebraska. Everything looks better when you win, and for the second straight road game Purdue’s defense made a wealth of big plays, as it now has eight interceptions in the last two road games.

Beyond the takeaways, the defense kept Purdue close despite getting gashed in the first half. Jalen Graham’s pick-six was the huge play, but holding for a field goal and having Nebraska drop a near certain touchdown in the final 20 seconds of the half were fortuitous. Purdue entered halftime down 17-14, but very easily could have been down 28-14, if not worse.

From there, the defense stepped up big time. It got stops. It held when the offense took some time to get going. It picked off Adrian Martinez three more times. Nebraska did very little in the second half until their final drive, and that is why Purdue won.

Then there is the offense. As bad as Aidan O’Connell was last week, he was good this week. he was efficient and precise. Jackson Anthrop played his best game of the season and has his first touchdown since 2019. Purdue actually found a running game and went for 120 yards on the ground, including 74 from King Doerue and a TD in the return of Zander Horvath. AOC was precise, spreading the ball to eight different receivers and finding Milton Wright and Anthrop for TDs. I said in the week that he was good as long as he avoided that first pick. Well, he definitely avoided it today.

I love the confidence and perseverance of Purdue today. The start was slow. Nebraska was the better team in the first half and the first two drives of the second half did little. The Boilers trusted their defense and the offense finally came around. By the time Purdue got its lead, Nebraska was the team questioning itself. They are 3-6 for a reason. They struggle in close games and tighten up. Purdue took full advantage and walked away with a win.

It feels great to be 5-3 entering the last four games. The absolute worst case scenario now is having a bowl game on the line entering the Bucket game, and the Bucket needs to be liberated with Indiana fully back to being Indiana. Now we get to play for a decent bowl game, and 7-5 feels very realistic given Northwestern’s struggles. A win in Wrigley clinches a bowl too.

Now we get Michigan State. In 1999 Michigan State rolled into Ross-Ade undefeated and in the top 5 after a big win at home over Michigan. They left with a loss so bad Nick Saban cowardly ran off to the SEC so he would never have to face Purdue again. I am not saying Purdue will win, but we do have a nasty habit of wrecking the seasons of top 5 teams under Brohm. He is 2-0 against top 5 teams.

Hey, I only report facts here.

Some other fun stats today:

  • Zander Horvath’s TD was only the fourth rushing touchdown of the season for Purdue and first by a running back since King Doerue at UConn. He has half of Purdue’s rushing TDs and has only played in 2.5 games.
  • Jalen Graham’s pick six gave Purdue multiple defensive TDs in the same season for the first time since 2012.
  • It was also Graham’s second career defensive TD, as he had a fumble return of roughly a foot for a score at Illinois last year. He is the first Purdue player with multiple defensive TDs since Ricardo Allen, who had four in his career.
  • Purdue ran for 100 yards as a team for only the second time this year, the first coming at UConn.
  • Purdue tied the overall series with Nebraska at 5-5 and is now 2-2 all-time in Lincoln with two straight wins.

Of course, there is still a lot to work on, Mitchell Fineran is officially shaky now, going 1 of 5 on his last 5 field goal attempts after starting 9 of 9. Purdue still is not scoring enough when it gets in opponent territory, as it failed to score a whopping seven times it had the ball in Cornhusker territory. Still, there was a recovery and the team moved forward this week. A bowl games now seems all but certain, and can be locked up with another big win next week.

It is a definite step forward.