The Nebraska Cornhuskers beat the Purdue Boilermakers, 25-24, Saturday night. Nebraska QB Tanner Lee found Stanley Morgan for a 13-yard touchdown in the final minute.
What it means
Nebraska’s win over Purdue gives the Huskers a little boost for the second half of the season. It wasn’t pretty — and plenty needs to be addressed on offense and defense — but it puts Nebraska one step closer to reaching a bowl game. It likely also buys coach Mike Riley some more time.
Beyond that? Nebraska needs to continue winning to really understand what this one win over Purdue could or could not mean.
But Tanner Lee had a huge performance, going 32-for-50 for 431 passing yards, 2 touchdowns and 0 interceptions.
3 things we learned
1. Nebraska can’t get out of its own way with penalties
This Nebraska team has created too many of its own problems with penalties. By the end of the game, the Huskers had 9 penalties for 95 yards. And some of the penalties were especially disappointing from veteran players.
Left tackle Nick Gates, for instance, had two major holding calls that negated big plays by the Nebraska offense. It’s those little things that are going to make it difficult for the Huskers no matter what.
Win or lose, Nebraska can’t afford to keep getting in its own way. Penalties are something this team can control, and that needs to be figured out immediately.
2. The defense bends, and it breaks
Nebraska defensive coordinator Bob Diaco is known for his “bend but don’t break” philosophy. It’s a good approach to have, but only if it works. Unfortunately, the Blackshirts have been bending and breaking all season at various points.
Part of the problem for Nebraska against Purdue were all of the injuries. At various times, players like Marcus Newby, Aaron Williams, Lamar Jackson and Antonio Reed all went down. When Nebraska was looking forward to having a healthy secondary against Purdue, those injuries threw off any rhythm the Huskers were trying to get into.
However, Nebraska’s defense simply struggled to defend the run and the pass. In many cases, Purdue had an open receiver but that player dropped the ball. Those moments bailed the Huskers out of some potentially bad situations but it’s hard to hang your hat on that.
Whichever way you look at it, it’s not good for the Blackshirts.
3. Something has to give
This team has talent. You look at the young players like wide receiver JD Spielman and running back Jaylin Bradley and there’s plenty of potential.
In fact, Bradley is a great example of what Nebraska can do. By the end of the game, the Huskers had 40 rushing yards. Because of lost yards on sacks, Bradley actually had 42 himself. The question then becomes why was he not utilized more sooner in the season?
There are also questions about the offensive line, which seems to be hit and miss from game-to-game. And then there’s the question about why the wide receivers are dropping passes, like the one that hit De’Mornay Pierson-El right in the chest (and would have likely ended as a touchdown). It’s just a series of questions with very few answers.
Something has to give. Whether it’s play calling, the game preparation or a combination of issues, Nebraska cannot keep operating like this. There is talent on this team, which makes the way the Huskers are playing at times all that more confusing.
Nebraska faces Northwestern at home on Saturday, Nov. 4, with kickoff set for 3:30 p.m. ET. The game will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network.
Northwestern is coming off a big 39-31 win over Michigan State in triple overtime.