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No. 8 Nebraska overcomes upstart Purdue

No. 8 Nebraska overcomes upstart Purdue
Published On: Sat, Oct 22
Sep 19, 2015; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Nebraska Cornhuskers Nebraska Cornhuskers quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. (4) is pressured by Miami Hurricanes linebacker Tyriq McCord (17) during the second half at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

At 7-0 and ranked eighth in the country, the Nebraska Cornhuskers aren't all that pretty when they win. But they keep on doing it.

What a difference a year makes. Just ask Nebraska coach Mike Riley and anyone who wonders around Lincoln with a corn hat and striped overall bibs.

Last year in Riley's first season, the Cornhuskers opened 2-6. The low point was a 55-45 loss to Purdue and fans were questioning the hiring of Riley.

Fast forward to today. The Cornhuskers stumbled through the first half Saturday against an inferior Purdue team. But as has been their blueprint, the Cornhuskers dominated the second half and beat Purdue 27-14 at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb.

No team in Riley's long college and pro career started 7-0, yet the second-year Nebraska coach saw plenty of work that needs to be done.

"This will sound like a little bit of a broken record, but we're extremely happy to win the game," Riley said. "My feelings are Purdue came here and played hard and their intentions were to win. Their quarterback is a good player and made plays, and so did their team. We struggled in a lot of ways and just had to stay with it."

The Cornhuskers need to be better to quiet critics who question their lofty ranking and to compete against No. 10 Wisconsin next week and No. 2 Ohio State the following week.

"We absolutely made plays when we had to. We need to be more consistent," Riley said. "Offensively it was hit or miss all day. Not enough consistency. But enough plays to score and win the game."

One of those key plays ignited the crowd and spelled the difference in the game.

Tommy Armstrong hit De'Mornay Pierson-El on a 40-yard slant route that went for a touchdown early in the third period to put the Cornhuskers up 17-14 and energize the Nebraska faithful.

Up until that time, Purdue quarterback David Blough was carving up the Cornhuskers' defense in interim coach Gerad Parker's first game since taking over for Darrell Hazell, who was fired Sunday.

Armstrong completed 17 of 31 passes for 252 yards and a touchdown. But the senior signal caller was outplayed in the first half by his sophomore counterpart from Purdue.

"We're ready for any team," Armstrong said referring to next week's opponent, Wisconsin.

Blough's final numbers (25 for 43, 309 yards, two touchdowns) don't indicate how close Purdue (3-4, 1-3 Big Ten) was to pulling off the upset.

Blough completed 16 of 20 first-half passes for 231 yards and two touchdowns as the Boilermakers took a 14-10 halftime lead and had Nebraska on its heels for the majority of the half.

The coaching change definitely had an impact on Blough, who said the team could have been bitter or better after Hazell's dismissal.

"It made us better ... people responded well throughout the week and during the game," Bough said. "Every single guy would take a bullet for anyone else in that locker room. We stuck together. The mindset has changed."

Under Parker, who had six days to game-plan after taking over for Hazell, the Boilermakers were bold and showed they wouldn't back down from the outset.

Unfortunately, execution doomed Purdue.

And it didn't take long -- 16 seconds -- for the Cornhuskers to draw first blood as Nebraska capitalized on the only major error Purdue made in the first half.

The Boilermakers reached into their bag of tricks on their first offensive play with a halfback option that was intercepted by Kieron Williams at the Purdue 22-yard line.

On their first play, the Cornhuskers made the Boilermakers pay for the mistake when Armstrong ran to the end zone from 22 yards to put Nebraska in the lead at the 14:44 mark.

"I wanted everyone to know at the start we were going to come out and play with house money. That was my call," the 34-year-old Parker said.

Blough, Parker and the Boilermakers' defense were undaunted. Blough implemented Parker's game plan to perfection in the first half and the defense, which was ranked near the bottom in many categories in the FBS, outplayed the Cornhuskers' offense.

Bough marched Purdue down the field after the gaffe. He picked apart the Nebraska defense, completing 4 of 5 passes and on fourth down, threw a 1-yard scoring dart to DeAngelo Yancey to tie the game at 7.

Drew Brown's 30-yard field goal put the Cornhuskers back on top at 10-7, and it looked like Nebraska was on the verge of taking control after Caleb Lightbourn's punt backed up the Boilermakers inside their own 10-yard line.

But Blough had other thoughts and hit Yancey cutting across the middle for an 88-yard touchdown play, putting Purdue up 14-10.

Armstrong completed only 8 of 18 first-half passes for only 94 yards.

"I'm proud of the guys," Parker said. "I tried a few things to spark us. Some of it didn't work, but I'm proud of our effort."

NOTES: It took Nebraska all of 16 seconds to score a touchdown. That was the quickest since a game in 1999 against Colorado, when the Cornhuskers scored in 15 seconds. ... Purdue was without its best defensive lineman, senior T Jake Replogle. Replogle didn't make the trip to Lincoln because of what former coach Darrell Hazell called headaches. ... The announced attendance at Memorial Stadium, 90,546, was the 352nd consecutive sellout in Lincoln. ... Nebraska ran the ball only 12 times in the first half, and five of those runs were by QB Tommy Armstrong. ... Entering the game, Purdue ranked 124th against the run and was at the bottom of FBS teams in allowing third-down conversions at 52 percent. ... Nebraska was without TE Cethan Carter (elbow) and WR Jordan Westerkamp. ... In honor of Nebraska's Sam Foltz, Purdue presented an all-black uniform to the Cornhuskers before the game. The No. 27 Boilermaker jersey was seen on the Nebraska sideline, next to Foltz's old Nebraska jersey. Foltz was killed in a car crash in Wisconsin before the season started.

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