LINCOLN, Neb. — You could hear the cheers from the Purdue locker room located deep beneath the south end zone of Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium. A celebration was going on.
The Boilermakers had just won at Nebraska, muting a dipped-in-red throng of 88,911 in one of the most intimidating environments in college football. It was Purdue’s first win in iconic Memorial Stadium. Better yet, it was Purdue’s second victory in a row, augmenting bowl hopes that took a big hit with an 0-3 start.
Now, the Boilers are 2-3 as they head into a bye week. And, it should be a fun bye week coming off this 42-28 triumph. There is work to do. But, before that, let’s savor what went on here.
• David Blough continues to be on a roll. Today, the senior hit 25-of-42 passes for 328 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. So, if you are scoring at home, Blough has hit 68 percent of his passes for 1,196 yards with seven TDs and just one pick in his last three games.
• Brycen Hopkins is emerging as one of the top tight ends in the Big Ten. He had five catches for 103 yards and a TD today, the second time in the last three games the junior has gone over the 100-yard receiving mark. For the season, Hopkins has 17 grabs for 308 yards with two scores.
• Rondale Moore is the most dangerous man in the Big Ten. Let’s go ahead and say it, because it’s true, even though he’s just a true freshman. Moore was up to usual slippery tricks today, nabbing a relatively quiet eight catches for 85 yards with 163 all-purpose yards. He entered the day leading the Big Ten in catches, receptions and all-purpose yards.
• Markus Bailey. He is the heartbeat of this sometimes-maligned defense, and continues to get better as the season goes along. The junior tallied 11 tackles today with a sack and TFL.
“I am very proud of our guys,” Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm told me after the game. “They played well in a difficult environment. We made plays when we had to.”
Sure, this isn’t a vintage Nebraska program. It hasn’t been for years, honestly. Scott Frost is trying to do what Frank Solich, Bill Callahan, Bo Pelini and Mike Riley were unable to do in the mighty wake of the Tom Osborne era: Make the Huskers nationally relevant. Still, it was big for Purdue to come into this venue and win against a desperate Nebraska team that wanted to stop the bleeding of an 0-3 start.
Purdue didn’t want to be victory No. 1 for Frost, who after last week’s loss at Michigan told the media that next week’s game vs. Purdue was “winnable.”
Needless to say, that comment created in a buzz in some circles and was a storyline leading up to this tilt on a gray, damp day in Lincoln. Brohm admitted last week his squad was aware of what is said by other teams, and left it at that. Turns out, this wan’t a winnable game for the Cornhuskers, who for the first time in their storied history are riding an eight-game losing streak with a game at Wisconsin on deck followed by a game at Northwestern. The last time Nebraska won? It was at Purdue on October 28, 2017, when the Huskers prevailed 25-24 by scoring the winning points with 14 seconds hanging on the clock.
Meanwhile, Purdue is gaining momentum as it heads to the midpoint of the season. Yes, myriad challenges loom for a program that will be digging itself out of the aforementioned 0-3 start for a while. Getting to a bowl game for a second year in succession will take the same type of yeoman’s work that was on display tonight.
“The unselfishness of our guys has really showed this year,” Brohm said. “We’ve had some guys that really have matured, and while may not be playing outstanding, they’re doing a good job and they want what’s best for the team. So, because of that, I think it’s helped our overalls team camaraderie. I’m really proud of our guys today.”
The Boilers looked sharp in the opening half, building a 20-7 edge at intermission as the defense stymied the Husker attack after NU opened the game with a TD drive. But the Nebraska offense came to life after halftime, notching 21 of its 28 points and 365 of its 582 total yards. Time and again, Nebraska gashed Purdue on the ground, as Devine Ozigbo (170) and Adrian Martinez (91) had big games, with Martinez also matching Blough’s 323 yards passing. But the Boilers had fewer penalties, no turnovers and excelled on third downs (7-of-16). In fact, NU suffered many key penalties, getting flagged 11 times fo 136 yards.
“In three of our games, we’ve played well enough to win a game, Frost said. “In my opinion, we honestly look like one of the most undisciplined teams in the country, and it kills me because it isn’t like we aren’t trying to give them messages, it isn’t like we aren’t trying to hold them accountable.”
Blough knows all about accountability. And overcoming adversity, too. Remember: His 2017 was scrubbed by a gruesome ankle injury. And he didn’t open this season as the starter, losing a preseason battle with Elijah Sindelar. Blough didn’t pout—or bolt as a grad transfer. Instead, he kept working. Look at him now, excelling the last three games after taking over as the starter while Sindelar recovers from injury. No Big Ten quarterback has played better than Blough. It’s great to see one of the sport’s good guys get rewarded.
“When I sit there and think about it, we trust our scripted plays, Blough said. “Coach Brohm called the plays and they came down and made some good plays and started up 7-0 on us. We knew that we’d have to score some points. As an offense, we kind of found a good rhythm, so we’re good.
“It was cool to see playmakers step up. Obviously Brycen [Hopkins], Rondale [Moore], those guys were spectacular. One sack on 48 drop-backs, so a good job by our O-line also.”
Stay tuned. This next few weeks are going to be very interesting. And a lot of fun.