LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska’s victory over Purdue won’t convince skeptics who’ve been saying the No. 8 Cornhuskers aren’t worthy of a top-10 ranking.
The wait to find out how good they really are is almost over.
In their final tuneup before their Big Ten West showdown at No. 10 Wisconsin, they came back from a four-point halftime deficit to beat the Boilermakers 27-14 Saturday.
Once again, and this time against a 24-point underdog, the Huskers (7-0, 4-0 Big Ten) underperformed against a lesser opponent until pulling away in the second half. Still, they’ll take their best record since 2001 into the game in Madison.
"These games, they haven’t been pretty," linebacker Josh Banderas said. "My heart’s been going in a lot of them. I’d like to have a couple where that’s not the case. But we’re going to find that our will to win is up there with the best in the country. No matter what team is in front of us, we’re going to find a way to win somehow."
Tommy Armstrong Jr. accounted for 303 yards of total offense and two touchdowns, and Purdue (3-4, 1-3) managed only 94 yards during the second half in interim coach Gerad Parker’s first game since taking over for the fired Darrell Hazell.
"What a great first half we played," Parker said. "We battled through some tough things and had fun with it and smiled about it whether things worked or not. I thought we did the same thing with our effort the second half. It’s just one of those things where they made more plays than we did."
The Huskers lost 55-45 at Purdue last year, and Memorial Stadium was in a stunned silence as the Boilermakers pulled out to a 14-10 lead on David Blough’s two touchdown passes to DeAngelo Yancey, the second one an 88-yard catch-and-run.
But the Huskers scored on three straight possessions after going three-and-out on their first series of the second half.
"This will sound like a little bit of a broken record, but we’re extremely happy to win the game," coach Mike Riley said. "My feelings are Purdue came here and played hard and their intentions were to win. Their quarterback is a good player and made plays, and so did their team. We struggled in a lot of ways and just had to stay with it."
Armstrong’s 40-yard pass to De’Mornay Pierson-El gave the Huskers the lead, and Alonzo Moore went 24 yards for a touchdown on a jet sweep before Drew Brown kicked a career-long 51-yard field goal for the game’s final points.
The Huskers, with a banged-up offensive line and facing a Purdue defense crowding the line of scrimmage, leaned on the pass far more than expected against the Big Ten’s worst rushing defense. Armstrong was hit-and-miss, and they went punt-punt-punt-interception on their last four series of the half.
Leading Nebraska on the road at half in his first game since replacing Hazell left Parker emotional for his halftime interview with an ABC sideline reporter.
"I’m almost in tears and got chills all over me," he said.
Purdue: Parker said the Boilermakers would play as if they had nothing to lose, and that’s what they did. They went for it on fourth down four times, converting twice and scoring a touchdown on one of them.
Nebraska: The Huskers continue to scuffle with lesser opponents. They could be in trouble if they don’t step up their game against the tougher opponents that are fast approaching.
Armstrong was 17 for 31 for 252 yards and ran 10 times for 51, and he set the school record with his 13th game with 300 yards or more of total offense. Terrell Newby had 82 yards on 22 carries for the Huskers.
Blough was 25 of 43 for 309 yards, the fifth 300-yard day of his career and his most in a road game. Yancey caught four balls for 100 yards.
Even though at least one team ahead of them in the poll will have lost, the Huskers don’t merit a promotion after an uninspired performance. They might even slip a spot or two.
Purdue: The Boilermakers host Penn State to begin a stretch of three home games in four weeks.
Nebraska: Their season-defining stretch starts at No. 10 Wisconsin next Saturday and continues the following week at No. 2 Ohio State.