Tommy Armstrong Jr. of the Nebraska Cornhuskers rushes for a 3-yard touchdown in the first quarter. (Joe Robbins / Getty Images)
West Lafayette, Ind. — Nebraska has a well-earned reputation for lighting up the scoreboard.
The Cornhuskers might finally have a solid defense to go with its potent offense. Nebraska held Purdue to 216 yards in a 44-7 win on Saturday afternoon.
The Huskers had shaky defensive performances earlier in the season, especially against Wyoming and UCLA, but Nebraska’s defense now has posted solid back-to-back efforts in wins over Illinois and Purdue.
“We’ve always been known as the Blackshirts,” Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory said. “I think the coaches, and I have, and some of the other guys have been waiting for us to come together and waiting for us to play like the Blackshirts that everyone knows. These last two weeks are big for us for how we want to play the rest of the season.”
Nebraska quarterback Ron Kellogg III said the Huskers were focused on producing a strong game on both offense and defense.
“There was a lot of energy, and we wanted to prove something,” he said. “We want to dominate the Big Ten, that’s the big thing.”
The Boilermakers ran for just 32 yards on 25 carries and didn’t score until the final minute of the game when Purdue’s Danny Etling found DeAngelo Yancey for a 55-yard touchdown pass with 39 seconds remaining. Nebraska defensive end Greg McMullen said the Cornhuskers were disappointed that they lost the shutout so late.
“Me and Donovan Vestal was arguing who was going to get the sack, but instead we got a 50-yard bomb for a touchdown, so it was very disappointing,” McMullen said. “We wanted the shutout.”
Ameer Abdullah ran for 126 yards and a touchdown, Terrell Newby ran for 61 yards and Imani Cross added 56 yards and two touchdowns for the Cornhuskers (5-1, 2-0 Big Ten).
Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez sat out with a turf toe injury. Tommy Armstrong Jr. started and completed just 6 of 18 passes for 43 yards with three interceptions. Kellogg stepped in and completed 10 of 13 passes for 141 yards and a touchdown.
Armstrong was unhappy with his performance.
“I felt like I did alright but, honestly, mistakes were made and it could have cost us the game, and that’s something that I have to fix,” he said.
Purdue, which plays at Michigan State next week, changed starting quarterbacks during its bye week following a 55-24 loss to Northern Illinois, but the offense didn’t improve. Etling completed 14 of 35 passes for 184 yards and a touchdown in his first career start. Yancey caught five passes for 146 yards and a touchdown for the Boilermakers (1-5, 0-2).
“I need to watch the film,” Etling said. “It’s not good enough yet. Obviously, I need to play better, and I will. I think that I learn more from a game like this than success, so I am going to go in, watch it and get better.”
Nebraska scored on its first drive as Armstrong’s 3-yard touchdown run put the Huskers ahead 7-0. Nebraska ran for 48 yards on the drive.
Halfway through the first quarter, LeRoy Alexander intercepted a pass by Etling and the Huskers took over on the Purdue 26. On Nebraska’s next play, however, Armstrong lobbed an interception to Purdue’s Frankie Williams in the end zone.
Kellogg replaced Armstrong at quarterback the following series and converted two third-and-long passes before Cross scored on fourth-and-goal from the 1, extending Nebraska’s lead to 14-0.
Purdue was outgained 117-14 and held without a first down in the first quarter.
In the second quarter, Nebraska cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste was ejected for targeting after leading with his helmet while making a play against Dalyn Dawkins. On the next play Randy Gregory recovered a Dawkins fumble, setting up a 28-yard touchdown run by Abdullah.
Trailing 21-0, Purdue went for it on fourth-and-3 from its 46 on its first possession of the third quarter, but Rob Henry’s pass on a reverse was short.
Nebraska responded with another scoring drive on which Abdullah moved the chains with a tough run on fourth-and-1 and, later, Cross scored from 2 yards out.
In the waning minutes of the third quarter, Gregory sacked Etling in the end zone, one of five sacks by the Cornhuskers, to increase Nebraska’s lead to 30-0.
“It was good because we were able to get him on the ground a few times,” McMullen said. “And because he’s a true freshman, he doesn’t have that composure that a senior quarterback would, so I think we took him out of his element.”
Gregory said the defense has been more focused the past few weeks.
“I think there’s been a lot more attention to detail as far as technique goes, and the game plan, and it’s really showing on the field,” he said.