LINCOLN, Neb. — For the seventh time this season, No. 8 Nebraska did just enough.
After a terrible first half and an impressive fourth quarter, Nebraska (7-0, 4-0), like usual, put away Purdue 27-14 to stay unbeaten and enter their matchup with No. 10 Wisconsin next week undefeated.
Here are five things we learned from Nebraska’s seventh win of the season.
Nebraska hasn’t put together a full game yet
That was the biggest thing coaches and players talked about this week. Putting four quarters together.
That didn’t happen.
Nebraska went into the half down 14-10 against a 3-3 Purdue team who recently fired their head coach.
The one thing Nebraska absolutely needed to sure up before Wisconsin and Ohio State these next two weeks were putting a full game together, and yet again Nebraska could not do that.
Hot starts don’t mean good first halves
After a Purdue interception on a running back pass on the first play of the game, and a 22-yard touchdown run by Tommy Armstrong the second play, Nebraska looked like they were going to take care of business fairly easily on Saturday.
And then David Blough was given a turn to throw the football, and began torching the Huskers.
An early 44-yard pass to Bilal Marshall broke open the Nebraskas secondary, and Blough ended up with 239 yards and two touchdowns in only 15 minutes of play.
He found eight different receivers on 16 throws and had an 88-yard touchdown pass to DeAngelo Yancy, which was Yancy’s fourth 50-yard touchdown against Nebraska in three seasons.
Read that sentence again because it’s just absurd.
Last week, Nebraska went up 17-0 against Indiana but couldn’t keep the Hoosiers from sneaking back into the game. Almost the exact same thing happened on Saturday against Purdue, mostly because of the secondary.
That leads into the next point.
Lockdown U isn’t quite Lockdown U
Despite two interceptions from safety Kieron Williams, the Husker secondary did not have a great day.
Chris Jones and Josh Kalu were burned by Purdue receivers all afternoon. Jones had a chance to take down Yancy on his 88-yard touchdown run but missed him. Kalu was beaten time and time again on the other side, leading to the 231 passing yards from Blough in the first half and 301 yards on the day.
The secondary figured it out in the second half, and slowed the Purdue offense dramatically, but those 231 yards in the first half showed how much ‘Lockdown U’ still needs to grow before that title really sticks.
The secondary is by far the strongest part of the Husker defense, but Blough picked it apart.
Injuries to the offensive line are going to be a problem
Both Nick Gates and David Knevel started on Saturday but it really didn’t seem like offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf trusted the line all that much. Armstrong was flushed out of the pocket on way too many throws and the Terrell Newby couldn’t run up the middle all day.
Gates and Knevel looked like blocking dummies most of the day, and limped off the field after every drive.
With big defensive fronts at Wisconsin and Ohio State upcoming, there needs to be some serious healing for that offensive line in the next seven days.
Wide receiver play changed the game
After a bad first half offensively, the Internet really wanted Nebraska to run the ball on the worst Big Ten rush defense.
Nebraska offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf clearly didn’t care.
Instead, Nebraska stuck to Armstrong’s arm and were saved by some big plays by some receivers.
De’Mornay Pierson-El caught two slant passes for big gains in the second half, one of which he took to the house to regain the lead 17-14. Armstrong tossed a few balls into the air for Brandon Reilly go to make a play on, which he did. Reilly finished with a season high four catches for 73 yards.
Stanley Morgan Jr. resumed his role as go-to guy on third down and finished with two catches for 43 yards.
And senior WR Alonzo Moore took a jetsweep to the end zone at the beginning of the fourth quarter, which gave Nebraska enough breathing room to close out the game.
Even without senior WR Jordan Westerkamp, the receivers really changed the trajectory of the ballgame in the second half.
The special teams are figuring it out.
Freshman punter Caleb Ligtbourn had his best game of the year, pinning Purdue down inside their own 10-yard line twice, and had a 59-yard rugby-style punt that put Purdue at their own two.
(Purdue then scored on an 88-yard touchdown throw from Blough to DeAngelo Yancy, but still.)
Freshman Tre Bryant had a 59-yard kickoff return that gave Nebraska great field position, which was his biggest retrun on the year.
(Nebraska then went 3-and out, but still)
Plus, kicker Drew Brown nailed a career-long 51-yard field goal that had plenty of room left on it.
Where is Devine Ozigbo?
The sophomore running back traveled to Indiana but only played a handful of downs. He was cleared to play on Saturday, but didn’t have single carry all day.
How bad is that ankle?
301 passing yards is not good.
Yes, the Husker defense slowed down the passing attack dramatically in the second half, but the 231 first half yards are a huge deal.
Because if Purdue’s David Blough can throw for that many yards against Nebraska in the first half, imagine what Ohio State’s JT Barrett could do in two weeks.
What it means
Per usual, this win is a win and that’s what matters. Nebraska will stay in the Top 10 and bring in a mountain of hype into Wisconsin next week in a huge Top 10 matchup.
Plus, for the first time in his career, Mike Riley is the head coach of a 7-0 football team. Nebraska is undefeated, relatively tested and will put their reputation on the line over the next two weeks.
Nebraska wants to be in the national spotlight. They want to win the big games. They want a conference championship and a spot in the College Football Playoff. Criticism aside, they haven’t screwed up the easy games. They’ve done just enough to put themselves in the position they want.
If they truly to prove they deserve what they want, they’re going to have to go to Wisconsin and Ohio State and earn it, and prove these sloppy wins show a team that knows how to win, and not a team that’s just squeezed by.