For a change, the defense just might have played well enough to win.
That’s what made a 35-14 loss to No. 17 Nebraska so frustrating to the Boilers, who lost their third straight.
“We’re right there,” quarterback Austin Appleby said. “Defense plays good and the offense comes up short. Offense plays good, defense comes up short. We’ve got to play together.”
Purdue (3-6, 1-4) came to Lincoln off three straight games of scoring 31 or more points with Appleby as the starter.
But he was 18 of 46 for 216 yards and threw two interceptions against a defense that sacked him three times and had nine hurries.
“They really didn’t blitz a whole lot. I think it was in the single digits the amount of times they brought somebody,” Appleby said. “They brought their front four and still got a good rush. They’re a great team and did a good job covering our receivers. We just have to keep working to get open and I’ve got to throw strikes when guys come open.
“It’s a team effort and we are going to get this thing straight going into next week.”
Danny Anthrop, the Boilers’ leading receiver, injured his right leg while returning a punt in the second half. Coach Darrell Hazell said he didn’t know the extent of the injury.
“It’s a big blow,” Appleby said. “He’s one of the best players on our team, not only on offense but on special teams the energy he brings. He’s a leader in our locker room and we’re definitely going to miss him.”
Purdue stayed in the game into the fourth quarter despite converting only 2 of 16 third downs.
Nebraska played most of the game without Heisman Trophy hopeful Ameer Abdullah, who mildly sprained and bruised his left knee as he recovered Tommy Armstrong Jr.’s fumbled snap at the Purdue 1-yard line.
Imani Cross, Abdullah’s backup, ran for two short touchdowns as Nebraska took sole possession of first place in the Big Ten West.
The Huskers (8-1, 4-1, No. 15 CFP) are a half-game ahead of Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin after their third straight win. Coach Bo Pelini said he was “very optimistic” Abdullah would be able to play against Wisconsin in two weeks. The Huskers have an open date next week.
With Abdullah out, Nebraska continued to pound away with the run as winds gusting to 30 mph made it tough to pass. Cross carried 20 times for 66 yards and Terrell Newby added ran nine times for 42.
The Huskers had a season-low 297 total yards after playing much of the game on a short field. Their average starting field position was their own 49.
“I thought our defense played great, they really did,” Hazell said. “They were put in some bad situations.”
Appleby hit Cameron Posey for a 23-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 28-14 in the fourth quarter, and the Boilers were set up in Nebraska territory again when Landon Feichter intercepted his second pass of the game. But Purdue turned the ball over on downs.
Nebraska tacked on a touchdown on Newby’s 7-yard run after Purdue failed to convert on fourth down for the fourth of five times in the second half.
The Huskers started their first three drives at the Purdue 17, 16 and 31, but came away with only seven points.
Appleby broke a 25-yard run to pull Purdue into a 7-all tie early in the second quarter. Nebraska responded with a 65-yard march that Cross finished with a 2-yard run.
“We’ve got to pick each other up,” Appleby said. “We have got to get both sides of the ball playing the way we can. We’ve just got to get a way to get that killer instinct, so when we have that opportunity to put the dagger in somebody, we’ve got to be able to make those plays and put ourselves in a position to win the game.”