Nebraska keeps moving up. Purdue is simply moving on.
The eighth-ranked Cornhuskers (6-0, 3-0 Big Ten) are one of nine unbeaten teams from the Power 5 conferences, reaching their highest AP ranking since Sept. 25, 2011, ahead of a Saturday home game against the Boilermakers (3-3, 1-2).
"Whether you start off good in a season or you start off bad in a season, your story is told by how you finish," said second-year Nebraska coach Mike Riley. "So all this stuff is fun for everybody else. For us, it’s exactly the record we want, and now we have to get better."
Nebraska’s biggest challenges are still to come — road games at Wisconsin, Ohio State and Iowa — but Saturday’s home game at Memorial Stadium (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2) isn’t one of them. Purdue heads to Lincoln, Neb., fresh off a coaching change.
A blowout loss to Iowa on Homecoming last Saturday marked the end for Purdue’s Darrell Hazell. The 49-35 final didn’t reflect the tone of the game — it was 35-7 by halftime, and many of the fans had left before the Boilermakers made it more cosmetic at the finish.
A day later, athletic director Mike Bobinski announced the firing of Hazell, who went 9-33 in his three-plus seasons. Wide receivers coach Gerad Parker takes over as interim coach through the end of the season.
"From the first time I met Darrell, I could tell he was a man of high character — a quality person who you would want leading a group of young men," Bobinski said. "But our inconsistent performance and inability to generate positive momentum thus far this season, along with the disappointing results of the past three seasons, made it clear to me that we needed to make a change."
As Bobinski noted, there’s a lot of football left — although Parker probably wishes he had an easier debut.
Lincoln is a tough place to play under any circumstances, let alone when the home team has College Football Playoff hopes and likely is still steamed over last season’s 55-45 loss to the Boilermakers.
Nebraska has injuries along the offensive line — tackles Nick Gates and David Knevel are questionable — but the Huskers are likely to try to pound the ball anyway.
The Cornhuskers are 27th nationally in rushing, averaging 220.5 yards per game. Purdue, which played last week without defensive tackle Jake Replogle (headaches) and linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley (ankle), allowed more than 300 rushing yards in each of its past four Big Ten games.
The Boilermakers are 124th out of 128 teams in rushing defense, allowing 264.3 yards per games.
Nebraska running back Terrell Newby has rushed for 242 yards and three touchdowns in the past two games and leads the team with 71.5 rushing yards per game. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. is second at 54.8 yards per game.
The Huskers held off Indiana 27-22 last Saturday after leading 17-0 in the first quarter. Nebraska finished with a 39-yard field goal in the final minute to cap a drive in which it ran the ball 14 consecutive times, taking 7:41 off the clock.
"This team has not faltered in the fourth quarter," Riley said.
"I think that we have worn some teams out and played better than them in the fourth quarter. Is that because of the mentality of the team? Is that because of the shape they’re in?
"I’m not sure, but there are some things like that that I appreciate."
Nebraska, which lost four games last season in the final seconds or overtime, has outscored opponents 88-13 in the fourth quarter this season.
Armstrong was a bit banged up last week against Indiana, completing only 10 of 26 passes with two interceptions. Overall, though, he has been much more efficient as a senior, getting intercepted only once every 38.8 passes. His career mark entering the season was a pick once every 24.4 pass attempts.
Purdue was down three cornerbacks last week against Iowa, and it was unknown as of Tuesday whether Myles Norwood, Brandon Roberts and David Rose would play this week.
Boilermakers quarterback David Blough put up big numbers against the Hawkeyes, but most of his 458 yards and four of his five touchdowns came after Purdue fell behind 35-7 and the game was all but over.
"It’s like having a newborn — and I have a newborn as well," Parker said of the early-week whirlwind with the coaching change. "It’s been pretty crazy. You wake up and you have some cold sweats and you’re trying to think of everything in the world to help this staff and these players be OK."