Tough 2nd-half defense lifts Boilermakers past Huskers 28-23
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Purdue didn’t let a bad performance in its previous game carry over to the next one.
Aidan O’Connell threw for two touchdowns, Purdue intercepted four of Adrian Martinez’s passes, and the Boilermakers beat Nebraska 28-23 on Saturday.
Purdue (5-3, 3-2 Big Ten) bounced back from last week’s home loss to Wisconsin to move within one win of bowl eligibility for the first time in four years.
“We know we didn’t play good last week,” O’Connell said. “It was probably our worst game of the season offensively. So we knew we could play better. It wasn’t like we were pondering if we can play football. We know we can play good football.”
Nebraska (3-6, 1-5) lost its third straight game and would have to win out against Ohio State, Wisconsin and Iowa to get to a bowl for the first time in five years.
The Huskers entered the game as a touchdown favorite, and the loss is certain to ratchet up the pressure another notch on fourth-year coach Scott Frost.
Nebraska was coming off an open date following its 30-23 loss at Minnesota and had two touchdowns and a field goal on its first four possessions. But the Huskers fell flat coming out of halftime.
“We’ve just got to play better,” Frost said. “We’re a good team. We’re not a great team talent-wise. A team shouldn’t need me to motivate them all the time. That’s my job. That’s what I do. A great team doesn’t need a coach to motivate them all the time.
“We got them ready to play. I thought they came out ready to play in the first half. I don’t think they were not ready to play in the second half. We just stubbed our toe again a few times and made too many mistakes and got beat.”
Purdue held on after Nebraska scored with 1:44 left on Martinez’s 12-yard pass to Rahmir Johnson. The Huskers failed to convert a 2-point try, and the Boilermakers ran out the clock after recovering the onside kick.
It was a solid bounce-back for the Boilermakers, who knocked off a then-No. 2 Iowa 24-7 on the road before committing five turnovers and allowing 297 yards rushing in a 30-13 home loss to the Badgers on Oct. 23.
“For our guys to respond the way they did after a tough loss against a really good team,” Purdue coach Jeff Brohm said. “This might be the most proud I’ve been of our team.”
O’Connell completed 34 of 45 passes for 233 yards and threw short second-half touchdowns to Milton Wright and Jackson Anthrop to wipe out a 17-14 halftime deficit.
Martinez played one of his worst games, completing 14 of 29 passes for 269 yards and two touchdowns. He passed for 104 yards on his final series — a holding penalty made the field longer on the 94-yard drive — and his four interceptions were a career high.
Nebraska had 36 yards and one first down in the second half before getting the ball with 5:45 to play and down 11 points.
By then, most of the fans were heading for the exits — a rare sight at Memorial Stadium.
“I’m grateful to the fans. I’m grateful to coach at my alma mater,” Frost said. “I’m impatient to have these games turn out a different way. I was just as frustrated as them in the second half.”
Purdue: The Boilermakers avoided back-to-back losses with a sharp road performance. They got back Zander Horvath, who missed five games with a broken fibula, and his return aided what had been a struggling ground game.
Nebraska: Boos poured out of the Memorial Stadium stands when Martinez threw his third interception — a snapshot of the state of the program right now.
Jalen Graham had the first two interceptions of his career, returning the first one 45 yards for Purdue’s first touchdown. Graham would have had three picks but dropped one on Nebraska’s first series.
It was the second time in three games that the Boilermakers had four interceptions.
Purdue rushed for 116 yards, the first time it went over 100 yards on the ground against a conference opponent since last November. ... David Bell caught nine balls for 74 yards. ... Frost dropped to 5-18 in one-score games at Nebraska. ... Walk-on Chase Contreraz took over as kicker for the struggling Connor Culp. Contreraz made a 33-yard field goal and both of his extra-point attempts.
Purdue hosts Michigan State on Saturday.
Nebraska hosts Ohio State on Saturday.
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