By Darren Ivy
The Halloween boo birds came out for the Nebraska offense after junior quarterback Adrian Martinez threw his third interception of the game with 7:14 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The Huskers were trailing 28-17 after having gained only one second half first down to that point, but the defense had just forced its first three and out of the second half against Purdue. Momentum seemed to be there to seize.
However, any chance of a comeback seemed to go out the door on the first play when Martinez overthrew his receiver and the Boilermakers intercepted it and retuned it to the 29-yard line.
As the offense headed off the field, they were greeted by a chorus of boos. “I’m impatient to have these games turn out a different way,” Nebraska head coach Scott Frost said. “I’m grateful to the fan base. I was just as frustrated as them in the second half.”
Purdue missed a field goal and the same score greeted Martinez when he headed back out with 5:45 left in the game.
The Huskers were finally driving, but after a nicely thrown ball by Martinez to Austin Allen, his 6-foot-9 tight end, the ball popped into the air after Allen was hit, and the Boilermakers caught it for a fourth interception with just over five minutes left.
“Frustration for me is at an all-time high because I didn’t control what I can control,” Allen said afterwards. “There were two points in that game where I caught the ball and didn’t tuck it away right away. Got away with the first one. The second one cost us. I let my team down in that situation. We had momentum. Driving down the field. Five minutes left. I didn’t do my 1/11th. On that certain play I let them down. I told the guys that I failed them and nobody was going to work harder this week. … Not only did I let my teammates down, I let the whole state down.”
The Nebraska defense again held and NU got the ball back at its own six with 3:14 left.
Martinez then led the Huskers on the eightplay 94-yard drive that was capped by Rahmir Johnson’s 12-yard touchdown catch with 1:44 left. NU went for the two-point play but Martinez got hit and the pass fell incomplete leaving the score 28-23. With no timeouts left, Connor Culp came out to attempt the onside kick. There was a scrum and initially NU signaled it had it but when the dust settled Purdue ended up with it at the NU 46-yard line.
“That’s another one of those plays,” Frost said.
The Boilermakers took three-straight knees to cap the five-point victory and drop Nebraska to 3-6, 1-5 in the Big Ten.
“I thought this was a really big win for our team against a very good opponent that played some really good football this year,” Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm said afterwards.
Leading 17-14, Nebraska punted four times and threw three interceptions on its first seven possessions of the second half.
Additionally, the Huskers ran the ball just 10 times for 15 yards in the second half, and Purdue used short passes – it’s longest play was 21 yards – to hold a 38:38 to 21:22 advantage in time of possession.
“I’m not sure,” Frost said of the difference between the first and second halves. “We played a really poor second half. We didn’t get very many possessions in the first half. I thought we did a good job offensively with what we had. We did a good enough job defensively. We gave them seven points on a turnover. I give Purdue a lot of credit. They stuck to their plan and won a game on the road in the Big Ten. You can’t go minus four on turnovers and beat very many people in the Big Ten, and we played a poor second half.”
By the end of the third quarter in which NU only gained 34 yards, Purdue had taken a 21-17 lead.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Luke Reimer missed a potential sack on quarterback Aidan O’Connell, who instead side stepped him, and passed for a first down. The Boilermakers methodically moved to the NU 20, where they faced a third-and-eight and Anthrop made an 11-yard catch to the nine. Three plays later, Purdue faced a third and nine and O’Connell hit Jackson Anthrop for the score to cap the 14-play, 75-yard drive and make it 28-17 with 10:05 left in the game.
Perhaps the turning point was a missed pass play just before halftime. The Huskers led 17-14 with 20 seconds left in the first half and had a wide open Samori Toure but Martinez overshot him on a for-sure touchdown play.
“The play was there and if we hit that, it’s probably a different game even with the pick -six and giving them seven points in the first half,” Frost said.
Despite Martinez throwing four picks and finishing 14 of 29 for 269 yards, Frost said he never considered benching him and planned to have him as his starter the next week. “No, that’s not a story,” Frost said. “We’re gonna play the guy that we think gives us the best chance to win. Right now, that’s Adrian.” Omar Manning, who finished with four catches for 75 yards, gave NU a 7-0 lead in the first quarter.
Purdue, which was held scoreless in the first quarter, tied things on an interception return for a score. Chase Contreraz made his first field gaol as a Husker to give NU a 17-14 lead with 1:20 left in the first half.