WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Before the season, Nebraska coach Bo Pelini expressed worry over the new targeting rule — designed to protect players from head injuries — that might hurt the Huskers or some other team playing what’s coached as good, aggressive defense.
Saturday, NU was hit with its first targeting flag and first ejection when cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste was thrown out for leading with his helmet to hit Purdue running back Dalyn Dawkins in the head. Jean-Baptiste broke up the pass intended for Dawkins, but got the flag. The ejection notice was sent to review and upheld. It’s NU’s first ejection since the 2012 Capital One Bowl, when Alfonzo Dennard was ejected for fighting.
“It came to fruition and hit us right in the face,” Pelini said of his preseason concerns. “The most alarming thing to me is that it was upheld. But I gotta see the film and see what they saw.”
Pelini did not believe Jean-Baptiste led with his head. Reviews showed Jean-Baptiste aiming somewhat lower than Dawkins’ head and attempting to lower the crown of his helmet. Still, the ejection stood and Jean-Baptiste had to head to NU’s small locker room. He still had his pads on at halftime, defensive backs coach Terry Joseph said.
“I was like, ‘Hey, you do realize that you’re out?’ ” Joseph said. Because the foul occurred in the first half, Jean-Baptiste had to sit out the rest of the game, but will not have to miss any more time for the flag.
Jean-Baptiste was just trying to make a play on the ball, Joseph said. Pelini said he was scratching his head at the call. Asked if changes to the rule — instituted this year — were inevitable, Pelini demurred.
“It’s almost like whatever I think is logical, it seems like it goes the other way,” Pelini said. “It’s like Bizarro World in ‘Seinfeld.’ Sometimes I feel like that’s the world I’m in.”
A touchdown fit for King
After Ameer Abdullah, Imani Cross and Terrell Newby did their work at I-back, Nebraska turned to walk-on King Frazier to finish the job Saturday.
The redshirt freshman from Lee’s Summit, Mo., got only three carries, but the last was a 3-yard run that produced his first career touchdown. It was a good reward for the I-back who gave the Huskers valuable work in spring practice when Abdullah was out and NU was waiting on Newby and Adam Taylor to arrive.
“Any time you can get your fourth tailback the ball and have him score a touchdown, I think it’s a great thing,” NU assistant coach Ron Brown said. “King’s been a valuable special teams guy for us, too. He’s actually come in late in games and run pretty well.”
Frazier now has 12 carries for 44 yards in the Huskers’ first six games.
Big Husker edge in field position
Nebraska’s clear advantage in field position played a key role in its convincing win.
The Huskers’ average starting field position was their 42-yard line. Three of their 16 drives started in Purdue territory (not counting the final possession after an onside-kick attempt), and they scored touchdowns on two of them.
Only three times did NU begin a drive inside its own 25-yard line.
The Boilermakers, on the other hand, didn’t begin an offensive possession past their own 25 until 9:25 remained in the game. Their average starting field position: their own 23-yard line.
Purdue ran just 10 of its 61 plays in Nebraska territory.
“We always felt like we had a long field to work with,” defensive coordinator John Papuchis said. “That’s a big confidence-booster for a defense.”
Realizing rewards in red zone
Nebraska made the most of its scoring opportunities in putting up at least 37 points for the fifth time in six games.
The Huskers were 5 for 5 in red-zone chances, scoring touchdowns on all five. That included a narrow escape when NU had first-and-goal from the 2-yard line late in the first quarter but didn’t score until Imani Cross’ 1-yard run on fourth down.
Nebraska came into Saturday converting 84.6 percent of its red-zone trips (22 of 26, with 18 touchdowns). That mark ranked sixth in the Big Ten.