WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — After Purdue took a 24-12 lead early in the fourth quarter, there was no margin for error for the Nebraska defense.
The Huskers had to stop the Boilermakers from there on, every time they had the ball, in order to get the ball back for the offense and give them a chance to win the game.
The Blackshirts did just that Saturday night at Ross-Ade Stadium. The offense did its job late too and the Huskers left West Lafayette with a 25-24 win after Tanner Lee hit Stanley Morgan Jr. with a 13-yard TD pass with just 14 seconds left on the clock.
“It’s fantastic,” Nebraska defensive coordinator Bob Diaco said. “Winning football games is just a challenge in 2017. You can look at all over the country. To come on the road in the Big Ten to strain against all odds ... against all odds. It’s been a challenge.
“The players are in love with their university, in love with each other and they’re in love with football. They were able to strain for as long as it took. Every second the game was on the line and they were able to get the win. Kudos to them. It was awesome.”
After Purdue scored early in the fourth, the NU offense answered with a 27-yard TD pass from Lee to tight end Tyler Hoppes to get the Huskers back in the game.
Then it was up to the defense, and the Blackshirts forced a three-and-out.
The Husker offense countered with their own three-and-out, and the defense had to hold again.
It did. Carlos Davis tackled Richie Worship for a 1-yard run, then after a short pass, Davis again pulled down Worship, who is a load at 6-0 and 260 pounds, for a two-yard gain short of the first down to force another punt.
“We knew we had to get off the field, and that was the main point,” Davis said. “We executed what we were supposed to do and it paid off big time.”
The Husker offense put together another drive all the way to the Purdue 15. But the drive stalled when Lee’s fourth-down pass for J.D. Spielman in the end zone fell incomplete.
So, once again, the Husker defense had to get another stop. This one was even bigger because there was only 3:44 left on the clock when Purdue took over on its own 15.
This time, the Boilermakers did get a first down, but then the Huskers stuffed quarterback David Blough for a 1-yard gain, used two timeouts, and Mick Stoltenberg pulled down Worship short of a first down to force another punt.
“We’re getting better,” Davis said. “It started in the bye week and went into this weekend. We kind of went hard, but we needed it.”
The defense did its job late to give the offense a chance.
“We do our thing,” said Davis, who had five tackles on the night. “You’re going to have mess ups in a game. You just have to come back from it and learn and get physical.”
Diaco said a few adjustments on the defensive side helped the Huskers get that last stop.
“We knew we had to alter a little bit of the call, a little bit of the coverage,” Diaco said. “We made a few tweaks and changes. We added one more player into the mix that wasn’t in the mix in this particular personnel group. Really those three elements really helps.”
Diaco said, really, it was all about believing.
“From the snap to whistle, every single moment they just kept believing,” Diaco said. “There was no moment where any player or coach was disheartened and not focused on getting the job done.
“We got those awesome stops down the stretch. Had every reason to de-accelerate a bit, but never stopped. Just kept elevating their game.”
The Husker defense once again had several players hurt during the game. That’s nothing new for this year’s team. It’s just the “next man up” mentality.
“Unfortunately they’ve gotten very good at that this year,” Diaco said. “They’re a very resilient group. It’s part of our culture, that next man up, next man in philosophy. So they get ready, practice hard. We talk about being ready, and there are so many examples. That will never go away. There are so many examples from the fall of 2017.”