LINCOLN, Neb. — For the third time this season, Nebraska ran off Tom Osborne Field into the locker room at halftime trailing its opponent.
This isn’t anything new. Last year, Nebraska trailed BYU, Northwestern, Michigan State and Iowa at home, and trailed Oregon and Illinois earlier this season at the half.
What is new, senior wide receiver Brandon Reilly said, is the attitude behind those closed doors.
A year ago, while going over adjustments and decoding the first half, there was a lot of doubt, Reilly said.
“This year,” he said, “everyone is still relaxed even though the first half wasn’t too pretty.”
Nebraska is 7-0 this year and 10-1 in its last 11 games, primarily because of its second half play.
Saturday was much of the same. In the first half against Purdue, Nebraska couldn’t stop the Boilermakers’ air raid, couldn’t get anything going on offense and trailed 14-10.
Defensive coordinator Mark Banker said his halftime talk was mostly about the pass defense. Nebraska gave up 231 passing yards in the first half to Purdue quarterback David Blough, including an 88-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter.
But instead of freaking out, instead of giving the secondary an earful, Banker said they just went over what they already knew.
“Bottom line was nothing changed,” Banker said. “We just get back to basics. The players were talking positive to each other and talking about what transpired, and it was acceptable, and then we ended up playing much better as the game progressed.”
Safety Kieron Williams said there was no panic in the locker room. They just had to lock in and recognize some different concepts.
“They kind of ran out of stuff to do, we were able to see tendencies and just make light on the ball,” Williams said.
Nebraska only allowed 78 passing yards in the second half.
On the offensive side of the ball, Nebraska struggled in the first half to do pretty much anything.
The Huskers were committed to the run game, despite not having a fully healthy offensive line and one of their main running backs, Devine Ozigbo, who was out with an ankle injury. But Nebraska just couldn’t find a rhythm running between the tackles. So at halftime, offensive coordinator Danny Langsdoft gathered his squad and said they needed to try to find a way to get to the perimeter.
“We just went into halftime just saying that we have to finish,” senior quarterback Tommy Armstrong said. “We left a lot of points off the board, and we found ourselves not scoring.”
As they’ve done all season, the Huskers were able to find a way to score in the second half, even in the run game, and put away Purdue 27-14.
But the biggest difference, beyond the schematic changes, might be the trust in coach Mike Riley and the coaching staff, kicker Drew Brown said.
After an ugly exit by former coach Bo Pelini, who recruited most of the team to Nebraska, and a rocky 3-6 start in 2015, trust in the coaching staff might not have been very strong. But after going 10-1 in the past 11 games, with comebacks on the road and in a bowl game and wins over ranked teams, wins that include long fourth-quarter drives and big defensive stops, the team is more comfortable in its own skin, kicker Drew Brown said.
And when things go bad, be it in the first half or second, Brown said Riley knows how to alleviate the nerves.
“He really just knows how to calm us down,” Brown said. “On the field, when things go wrong or at halftime or in practice, that’s what he does really well.”
Banker isn’t quite sure why the second half is Nebraska’s half. He joked he doesn’t really care to find out.
“But I hope it continues,” he said.