LINCOLN — Nebraska's pass rush and pressure on Purdue quarterback Danny Etling played a big part Saturday in the Boilermakers completing 14 of 36 passes, the worst percentage (38.9) by a Husker opponent this season.
“I think every week we've gotten better and better, and this week it felt like we were able to get in the backfield at will,” NU defensive end Avery Moss said.
The Huskers got after Etling immediately in the 44-7 win. They finished with five sacks, including two by defensive end Randy Gregory.
No one welcomed the pressure more than NU secondary coach Terry Joseph, who knows how much it helps his defensive backs in coverage.
“When they came out and wanted to go a lot of empty (backfields) and spread us out, that kind of worked to our advantage,” Joseph said. “We could cut some of the guys loose. We felt good about being able to cover their guys man-to-man, so we had a lot more pressure options and we were able to get the guy on the ground and hurry some throws.”
Nebraska's first two Big Ten opponents have completed 44.8 percent of their passes after four nonconference teams connected at a staggering 63.0 percent.
Moss said the confidence of Nebraska defensive players has “skyrocketed” after two improved performances coming off a bye week.
NU held Purdue to 216 yards and didn't lose its shutout until a 55-yard touchdown pass in the final minute. The 11 first downs by the Boilermakers also were the fewest by a Husker opponent this season.
“You've got DBs getting picks, linemen getting sacks, linebackers making plays on the ball, stuff like that,” Moss said. “Every area is making plays, and it gives everybody confidence in each other.”
Nebraska improved to No. 5 in the Big Ten in scoring defense (22.3 points per game) and No. 8 in total defense (407.2 yards per game).
Alexander impresses Joseph
Joseph said redshirt freshman LeRoy Alexander played well Saturday in his second straight game with a decent amount of snaps at safety.
Alexander intercepted a tipped pass in the first quarter against Purdue and returned it inside the Boilermakers' 5. It was shortened to a 12-yard return, however, because of a block in the back and NU took over at the Purdue 26.
Alexander also had a pass breakup Saturday, and had recovered a fumble the week before against Illinois.
“LeRoy's an athletic guy,” Joseph said. “He does everything within the system. He obviously has good ball skills. He's doing a good job, and he's going to become more and more comfortable as he plays. But he gives us another option at safety.”
NU tough's out ground game
Nebraska slowly but surely churned out 251 rushing yards at Purdue (and 4.5 per carry), but some of it didn't come too easy.
Take away a 28-yard run by Ameer Abdullah and a 21-yard gain by Imani Cross in the first half and the Huskers managed just 43 yards on their other 20 attempts in the first two quarters.
“It was tough,” Cross said. “I tip my hat to Purdue, they did a lot of things to kind of confuse us and try to knock us off our game. But I tip my hat to our offensive line as well, because they really opened up some great holes and played with their eyes up and battled.”
Nebraska ranks No. 8 nationally in rushing offense at 284.8 yards per game. Abdullah finished with 126 yards on 20 carries Saturday and is seventh among FBS individuals with 136.0 per game.
Incorporating more Bell
Finding more ways to get junior Kenny Bell involved in the offense might be something Nebraska explores during its bye week.
Bell caught just two passes for 29 yards Saturday because of all the attention that Purdue paid to him, receivers coach Rich Fisher said.
Bell played some snaps in the slot position, but Fisher indicated NU might look at other ways to use him.
“We're going to have to move him around a little bit,” Fisher said. “They double-teamed him pretty much the whole game.”
Bell led Nebraska last season with 50 catches. He's second on the team this season with 24 receptions, one behind Quincy Enunwa.