WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Nebraska’s fortunes didn’t come down to one last play or one final minute Saturday, or even another run-out-of gas fourth quarter for a taxed and hurting defense.
They instead crumbled in a five-possession stretch of the third quarter, and after the Huskers had cut their deficit to 21-16 by taking the second-half kickoff and marching 75 yards in what looked like a momentum-changing drive.
“I was kind of surprised that it got away from us,” receiver Stanley Morgan said.
» The Nebraska defense got picked apart by quarterback David Blough on the ensuing 13-play, 80-yard drive for Purdue, with the redshirt freshman completing 8 of 10 passes for 68 yards, including the 5-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Jurasevich on third-and-goal.
» After an NU punt, Purdue needed two plays to strike again, with Blough connecting on an 83-yard scoring pass to DeAngelo Yancey, who shook Husker cornerback Daniel Davie on the Boilermakers’ longest play of the season.
» Nebraska took one play to give it back the next time — when miscommunication between quarterback Ryker Fyfe and a receiver led to a first-down interception — and Purdue eventually found its way back to the end zone on a 9-yard TD pass from Blough to Yancey.
Less than 10 minutes after Nebraska seemingly had clawed back into it after a brutal first half, the Boilermakers had run off 21 straight points to lead 42-16 with 2:34 left in the third quarter.
“It is kind of a blur,” NU defensive end Jack Gangwish admitted afterward.
Purdue’s immediate answer to the Huskers’ score might have been one of the most important series of the game. Especially considering the Boilermakers had been outscored 69-28 in the third quarter in their previous seven games.
“It was too bad that it happened,” NU receiver Lane Hovey said, “but at the same time we just had to say, ‘Oh, well, here we go. Let’s go get another one.’ ”
Nebraska (3-6, 1-4 Big Ten) managed a first down after watching Purdue regain its 12-point lead. But then Fyfe threw incomplete on three straight passes to lead to a Husker punt. NU receiver Jordan Westerkamp appeared to get his left hand held down on the third-down play, but there was no flag.
The quick Purdue touchdown followed by the interception put the Husker defense back on the field with the Boilermakers at the 19 — one of four times they started possessions inside the NU 25.
But Gangwish said it was still up to the defense to get a stop, no matter the situation.
“We don’t play this game because it’s easy,” he said. “We don’t go out there because we expect to start drives on the (opponent) 20 every drive. It doesn’t really change our outlook when we don’t start with good field position. That’s still our job. That’s still what we’re here to do.”
Nebraska had watched several games slip away in the fourth quarter this season, allowing 87 points in that period before Saturday. The third quarter statistically had been the Huskers’ best, with the defense giving up 26 points (and the offense producing 52).
Fyfe led the Huskers down the field coming out of halftime, helped by back-to-back completions of 16 yards to Hovey and 30 to running back Devine Ozigbo. Purdue helped with a roughing-the-passer penalty before Imani Cross made it 21-16 with a 9-yard run.
“Everything was clicking. We were executing like we wanted to and like we had wanted to that first half,” Hovey said. “I think it definitely got us feeling good for the rest of the game.”
Purdue just didn’t let NU feel good for long, and the emphatic answer was well-timed against a team with an already delicate psyche.
“I don’t know if I saw a big turning point in the way our guys felt,” Gangwish said. “One thing that’s good about this team is they’re very consistent, very even keel, and I think that allows us to perform even when things aren’t looking good.”
The 10-minute lapse was just too much to allow for a 28-point fourth quarter to help.
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