WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - While it was pretty much ugly from beginning to end, Nebraska did what it needed to do in a 44-7 victory over Purdue in its first road game of the season on Saturday afternoon.
Redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong and struggled throughout the day, but the Huskers (5-1 overall, 2-0 Big Ten) got enough from their running game and another solid performance from their defense to get by just fine against the hapless Boilermakers (1-5, 0-2).
Junior running back Ameer Abdullah rushed 20 times for a game-high 126 yards and a touchdown, while sophomore Imani Cross followed up with 56 yards and a pair of scores to lead the way.
On defense, Nebraska held Purdue to just 216 yards of total offense, recorded five sacks and even picked up a safety en route to what would have been the first shutout since their 33-0 win over Arizona back in 2009 if not for a late touchdown pass surrendered in the final minute of play.
"Obviously this was our first game on the road, and I think we did a lot of good things," head coach Bo Pelini said. "Obviously we played well defensively. We did what we had to do to win the ball game. We played well and did some good things, but I don't think we were as sharp in some technique things and fundamental things as we need to be offensively at times. I think we're heading in a good direction. Once again, I've seen some really good things. I see our team progressing."
In a game that lacked much of any enthusiasm going in, Nebraska wasted no time getting things going right from the start. After a quick three-and-out stand on defense, the Huskers marched down the field 66 yards on 11 plays and scored their first touchdown on a 3-yard option keeper by Armstrong.
Though Nebraska failed to capitalize on an interception by safety LeRoy Alexander when Armstrong was picked in the end zone on the very next play, it got on the board again towards the end of the first quarter on a 1-yard touchdown run by Cross. The score came on a fourth-down conversion after the Huskers were stuffed three straight plays from inside the 3-yard line, but nonetheless increased the lead to 14-0 as time expired in the opening quarter.
The Huskers out-gained the Boilermakers in total offense 117-14 and held the ball for more than 10 minutes in the first quarter, as Purdue punted three times with an interception in its first four possessions under freshman Danny Etling, who made his first career start on Saturday. As well as the game started for NU, though, it was mostly over-shadowed by the loss of senior All-American right guard Spencer Long, who suffered a knee injury and watched the rest of the game from the sideline on crutches and in street clothes with a brace on his left knee.
Easily the most controversial play of the game came in the second quarter when senior cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste blew up a screen pass with a big hit on a Purdue receiver. However, the back judge threw a flag from about 30 yards away and ruled that Jean-Baptiste had targeted the receiver with a helmet-to-helmet hit. Even after the play was reviewed, Jean-Baptiste was ejected from the game by rule.
Nebraska eventually bumped its lead up to 21-0 midway through the second quarter after defensive end Randy Gregory recovered a Purdue fumble inside Boilermaker territory. On NU's ensuing play, junior running back Ameer Abdullah broke loose for a 28-yard touchdown with 7:12 left in the half. Following up on his 225-yard rushing effort last week against Illinois, Abdullah racked up 54 of his 126 yards on the ground in the first half.
Cross barreled in from 2 yards out for his second touchdown of the day with 8:31 left in the third quarter, and then Gregory came up big again and sacked Etling in the end zone for a safety to make it 30-0 going into the final quarter. Nebraska added another touchdown in the fourth when Ron Kellogg connected with senior wide out Quincy Enunwa for an 8-yard touchdown pass with 12:47 remaining.
King Frazier capped off the scoring for the Huskers as he added a three yard touchdown with 50 seconds left. But it was a 55-yard touchdown pass from Purdue quarterback Danny Etling who gave the game its final score following the touchdown run from Frazier.
With a bye next week, the Huskers will have two weeks to prepare for their next outing at Minnesota (4-2, 0-2) on Oct. 26.
"Like I just told the team, we're not where we need to be," Pelini said. "We're nowhere near. We need to keep working. We need to stay the course. We've got to use the next two weeks heading into the second half of the year the way we used the last bye week, because I thought we made some big strides during that week. If our guys start getting comfortable and they start believing whatever, we have a lot of work to do. There's more out there for this team. I'll take the win. I thought we did what we needed to do today, and now it's time to move forward and go back to work."