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Nebraska held a three-point halftime lead, but Purdue won a defensive slugfest in the second half to leave Memorial Stadium with a 28-23 victory on Saturday afternoon.
Purdue improved to 5-3 overall and 3-2 in the Big Ten by recording four interceptions of Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez on the day, including two in the fourth quarter. Martinez entered the game with just three interceptions thrown on the season.
The Huskers, who slipped to 3-6 and 1-5 in the Big Ten, got another strong defensive performance from the Blackshirts, who kept them in the fight for 60 minutes, only allowing Purdue seven points off the four turnovers, which came on a 45-yard pick-six by Jalen Graham in the second quarter to tie the game at 7-7.
In the first 26 minutes of the second half, the Boilermaker defense surrendered just 68 yards to the Huskers. Leading 28-17 and possessing the ball after securing its fourth interception, Purdue appeared to have the game salted away, but the Blackshirts held on three downs and Nebraska used its timeouts to force a punt.
Martinez and the Huskers were pinned at their own 6, but covered 94 yards in just 1:30, capped by a Martinez 12-yard touchdown pass to Rahmir Johnson with 1:44 left. Nebraska attempted a two-point conversion to cut the margin to a field goal but the attempt failed.
Trailing 28-23, Connor Culp then attempted an on-side kick that provided Nebraska a golden opportunity, but the ball skipped over the outstretched hands of Cam Taylor-Britt and was recovered by Purdue tight end Payne Durham to seal the 28-23 win.
All six of Nebraska’s losses this season have been by one score. The Huskers put up more total yards (399) than Purdue (349) despite the Boilermakers running 28 more offensive plays and possessing the ball for more than 38 minutes in the game.
Nebraska out-gained Purdue on the ground 130-116, and put up more yards through the air (269) than the Boilermakers (233) despite Purdue’s Aidan O’Connell completing 34-of-45 passes compared to Martinez going just 14-of-29 through the air. Nebraska also won the punting battle (41.5-34.0) and did not miss a kick on the afternoon, while Purdue went 0-for-2 on field goals. Penalties were also nearly even, as Nebraska was flagged for four penalties for 38 yards, while Purdue committed for penalties for 30 yards.
Luke Reimer led the Blackshirts with a career-high 19 tackles, the seventh-most in a game in school history and the most ever by a Husker in a Big Ten Conference game. Nick Henrich added 14 stops, while JoJo Domann contributed a career-high 13 tackles on the day for Nebraska.
Nebraska took a 17-14 lead to the locker room at halftime after an evenly played opening 30 minutes. The Huskers led 7-0 after one quarter on the strength of a 12-play, 82-yard drive that was capped by Martinez’s 16-yard touchdown pass to Omar Manning with 6:16 left in the period. Manning finished the day with a career-high nine receptions for 75 yards.
The Blackshirts continued to play strong defense, but Purdue’s defense produced points for the Boilermakers early in the second quarter on Graham’s interception and return for touchdown.
Martinez and the Husker offense responded quickly with a five-play, 75-yard drive in just 1:52, capped by Martinez’s four-yard touchdown run with 10:45 left in the half to give the Big Red a 14-7 lead. Jaquez Yant did most of the damage for the Huskers on the drive taking the opening carry 33 yards before adding an 18-yard run two plays later.
Purdue provided an answer of its own with a 14-play, 75-yard march that lasted 6:57 and culminated with a Zander Horvath one-yard touchdown blast to tie the score at 14 with 3:48 left in the second.
But the Huskers put up the final response of the half with the first field goal of Chase Contreraz’s career, a 33-yard boot with 1:20 left to give Nebraska the 17-14 lead. NU’s final scoring drive of the half featured a 43-yard strike from Martinez to Levi Falck on the opening play.
Purdue took the lead for the first time on O’Connell’s three-yard touchdown pass to Milton Wright with 2:47 left in the third, then extended the margin to 28-17 O’Connell’s nine-yard scoring strike to Jackson Anthrop with 10:05 left.
Nebraska returns to Big Ten road action next Saturday when the Huskers take on Minnesota in Minneapolis. Kickoff is set for 11 a.m. (CT) with live television coverage on ESPN2.
Memorial Stadium (Lincoln, Neb.)
Oct. 30, 2021
First Quarter (NEB 7-0)
NEB – 6:16 – Omar Manning 16 pass from Adrian Martinez (Chase Contreraz kick), 12 plays, 82 yards, 4:36 (NEB, 7-0)
Second Quarter (NEB 17-14)
PUR – 12:37 – Jalen Graham 45 interception return (Mitchell Fineran kick) (7-7)
NEB – 10:45 – Martinez 4 run (Contreraz kick), 5 plays, 75 yards, 1:52 (NEB 14-7)
PUR – 3:48 – Zander Horvath 1 run (Fineran kick), 14 plays, 75 yards, 6:57 (14-14)
NEB – 1:20 – Contreraz 33 FG, 7 plays, 61 yards, 2:28 (NEB 17-14)
Third Quarter (PUR 21-17)
NEB – 2:47 – Milton Wright 3 pass from Aidan O’Connell (Fineran kick), 8 plays, 48 yards, 2:59 (PUR 21-17)
Fourth Quarter (PUR 28-23)
PUR – 10:05 – Jackson Anthrop 9 pass from O’Connell (Fineran kick), 14 plays, 75 yards, 5:47 (PUR 28-17)
NEB – 1:44 – Rahmir Johnson 12 pass from Martinez (2PAT attempt failed), 8 plays, 94 yards, 1:30 (PUR 28-23)
Attendance: 85,902 (record 380th consecutive sellout at Memorial Stadium)
Kickoff: 2:35 p.m.
Length of Game: 3:22