WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - In a game where Nebraska had two weeks to prepare and was playing to keep its bowl hopes alive, the Huskers stumbled out of the gates and missed numerous opportunities at Purdue on Saturday night.
But when the game and the season were on the final with just over a minute left to play, NU came up with arguably its most important drive of the year.
Nebraska got the ball back with 1:22 at its own 30, and junior quarterback Tanner Lee marched the offense down the field with a methodic passing drive.
Then, facing a third-and-four from the 13 with 18 seconds left, Lee delivered a dime to Stanley Morgan over the middle for the game-winning touchdown pass, giving the Huskers a 25-24 victory keeping their postseason hopes alive for another week.
The 12-point fourth-quarter comeback tied for the largest in school history, and it moved NU up to 4-4 overall and 3-2 in Big Ten play.
After a quick three-and-out by Purdue to open the game, Lee hit Morgan on a 46-yard pass to the PU 18 to set up a 44-yard field goal by Drew Brown to give Nebraska an early 3-0 lead.
That would be all of the scoring in what would end up a six-punt first quarter where the teams combined for a mere 133 yards and five first downs.
Nebraska rolled the dice and went for it on a fourth-and-one from their own 45 early in the second quarter, but fullback Luke McNitt was stopped in his tracks for a turnover on downs.
The Boilermakers capitalized by marching 45 yards on five plays and punching it in a four-yard touchdown run by Richie Worship to take go up 7-3 with 12:30 left in the second quarter.
The Huskers had a chance to reclaim the lead on their ensuing possession but De’Mornay Pierson-El dropped a sure touchdown at the goal line, leaving Brown to tack on a 21-yard field goal and make it 7-6.
Purdue had started the game 0-for-5 five on third-down conversions to start the game, but on its final drive of the half the offense converted on three straight third downs en route to a five-yard touchdown run by quarterback David Blough.
The score sent the Boilermakers into halftime up 14-6, while the Huskers ended up managing just 150 yards on 34 plays, including only eight on the ground.
Nebraska got off to another good start to open the second half when Lee hit Pierson-El for a 37 pass into Purdue territory, but again NU had to settle for a Brown field goal, this time from 37 yards out to cut the deficit to 14-9.
The Boilermakers would answer right back, however, marching 12 plays for 71 yards and scoring on a 20-yard field goal by Spencer Evans, pushing the lead back up to 17-9 with 6:24 left in the third quarter.
Once again, the Huskers were able to grind down the field on a 10-play drive all the way to the PU five, but still couldn’t find their way into the end zone and settled for a 25-yard field goal by Brown, his fourth of the night.
Nebraska looked like it came up with a big third-down stop deep in its own territory, but Purdue extended the drive by picking up a defensive pass interference call on a fake punt pass.
That led to a 14-yard touchdown pass from Blough to Anthrop to give the Boilermakers a 24-12 lead with 14:23 left to play.
Finally, on NU’s following possession, the Huskers found the end zone. With 11:03 remaining in the game, Lee connected with tight end Tyler Hoppes for a 27-yard scoring toss that got the Huskers right back in the game.
Nebraska later got the ball back at its own 21 with just under seven minutes to play, and Lee hit Morgan on a 29-yard completion on the first play of the drive to get to midfield. A few plays later, Lee found Spielman for a 21-yard pass, and a facemask on Purdue moved the ball down to the PU 19.
That would be as far as the Huskers would get, though, as Lee’s fourth-down pass to Spielman in the end zone fell incomplete to end the threat.
The defense came up with one last stop to get the ball back, and Lee quickly marched the offense down the field and connected with J.D. Spielman for a 10-yard strike to the PU 19 with just under a minute to play.
Purdue had one last chance following Morgan’s touchdown, but a desperate series of lateral came up short to preserve the victory for the Huskers.
Nebraska will get back to work next week when it hosts Northwestern for a 2:30 p.m. kick on BTN.