Big Ten roundup: Unbeaten Nebraska rallies past Purdue
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 in 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, Alonzo Moore went 24 yards for a touchdown on a jet sweep and 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.
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 for Purdue, the fifth 300-yard day of his career and his most in a road game. Yancey caught four balls for 100 yards.
(At) Northwestern 24, Indiana 14: Quarterback Clayton Thorson passed for 285 yards and three touchdowns, and the resurgent Wildcats bolted to an early lead then coasted to their third straight victory.
In a reversal of its 1-3 start to the season, Northwestern (4-3, 3-1) took a 24-3 lead and wasn’t seriously threatened the rest of the way. Indiana (3-4, 1-3) dropped its third consecutive game after three victories in the first four starts.
“Without a doubt, it’s the way we’ve prepared,” Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald said of the difference. “We really had to change gears with the way we practiced, the way we worked out, a spring-ball type of mentality.”
Thorson became the first Northwestern signal-caller since at least 2000 to throw three or more touchdown passes in three consecutive games. He completed 24 passes in 43 attempts and did not throw an interception.
Running back Justin Jackson led the Northwestern ground attack with 106 yards in 28 carries.
“We were a little flat-footed early, but (the players) got a handle on it, got a good bead on it,” said Hoosiers coach Kevin Wilson, whose team didn’t allow a point in the second half. “That’s a credit to not just the coaches but the kids. Because they settled down, and they needed to.”
The Wildcats took the opening kickoff and drove 70 yards for a touchdown, as the Hoosiers had no answer for their no-huddle offense. Thorson connected with Solomon Vault on a 17-yard pass to complete the 11-play drive.
Custin Carr, the Big Ten leader in receptions, yards and touchdowns coming into the game, had seven catches for 125 yards.
(At) Minnesota 34, Rutgers 32: Emmitt Carpenter connected for a 28-yard field goal with 10 seconds remaining and the Gophers survived.
Minnesota (5-2, 2-2 Big Ten) scored touchdowns on their first three possessions for a 21-0 lead against Rutgers, which entered the game allowing the most points per game and second-most yards per game in Big Ten play.
“We had a great week of practice and we come out of the gates,” Minnesota coach Tracy Claeys said. “We didn’t handle that lead for whatever reason.”
Rodney Smith had a 94-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and ran for 111 yards and a touchdown for the Gophers. Mitch Leidner returned after missing one game with a concussion and was 11-of-18 passing for 156 yards and an interception.
Rutgers cornerback Damon Hayes intercepted Leidner and returned it 55 yards for a touchdown with just over six minutes left in the third quarter, but Scarlet Knights kicker David Bongaura couldn’t tie the game when he missed the PAT.
Smith took Bongaura’s ensuing kickoff and raced down the home sideline for the first kickoff return for a touchdown by a Minnesota player since Jalen Myrick in 2014.
Giovanni Rescigno was 22-of-38 for 220 yards passing in making his first start for Rutgers (2-6, 0-5). Rescigno threw three touchdown passes and two interceptions for the Knights, who had scored 14 points in four conference games prior to Saturday.
“A lot of heart, a lot of spirit; he made a lot of plays,” coach Chris Ash said of Rescigno. “I’m really happy for the kid and really excited about what he can do as we move forward.”
Bongaura made a 39-yard field goal with four minutes left, but Minnesota went 59 yards in 13 plays to set up Carpenter’s game-winner. Smith had 25 yards rushing, including a 3-yard run on third down, spinning away from defenders twice for a first down.
Shannon Brooks had 22 carries for 87 yards as the Gophers ran for 243 yards. Rutgers had allowed an average of 328 rushing yards in four previous Big Ten games.