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Purdue News

Purdue Keeps Bowl Hopes Alive With 31-27 Win Over Nebraska

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Stan Jastrzebski
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WBAA News

It's been a while since any non-freshman scored a touchdown for Purdue. Not since week four in a loss to Minnesota, in fact. Since then, some 30 redshirt and true freshmen have suited up for the Boilermakers. Saturday, that crew was largely responsible for keeping the team's slim bowl game hopes alive in a 31-27 win over Nebraska.

A rushing score by one of those first-year players, David Bell -- who's been the receiving corps' go-to in the weeks since the injury to All-American Rondale Moore -- sealed the win with a minute to go in the fourth quarter. It was the sixth lead change of the game and the fourth in the final period alone.

Purdue outgained the Cornhuskers 449-375 on the day, thanks in part to one of the better rushing efforts on the year by the Boilers. Freshman tailback King Doerue tallied 71 yards and averaged nearly five yards a carry. And redshirt freshman quarterback Jack Plummer made several plays with his legs, gaining 61 yards on the ground. An effective play-action game instigated by the rushing game regularly gave Plummer added time to find receivers, but also seemed to make him more confident running the ball -- a mindset which may hurt (literally and figuratively), long-term.

As Purdue was approaching the Nebraska red zone on what would be its first of two go-ahead drives in the fourth quarter, Plummer escaped from the pocket on a 14-yard run. He did not give himself up and took a hard hit from Nebraska linebacker JoJo Domann. Plummer came up limping and tried to go back to the huddle. Quickly it became apparent he couldn't, and he fell to the turf.  A moment later, team staff were helping him off the field, with Plummer unable to put any weight on his right leg.

Without giving any specifics, Coach Jeff Brown pronounced his quarterback "probably out the rest of the year," after the game.

Plummer was seen yelling to his teammates on the sidelines as he was carted off the field, and sophomore Aiden O'Connell was taking his place in the huddle. O'Connell led the team the rest of the way, going 6-7 passing, including the 12-play drive that sealed the victory.

Thus, the win puts salve on what was otherwise a scary game for Brohm's team (3-6 overall, 2-4 Big Ten) -- a game where he admitted afterward "there were numerous mistakes here and there." The Cornhuskers (4-5, 2-4 Big Ten) blocked two Purdue punts and intercepted two of Plummer's passes, including a shovel pass that went right to Nebraska lineman Darrion Daniels.

However, on that drive -- which began on the Purdue 2-yard line -- and on several others, Purdue's defense stiffened with its back to the wall. Nebraska started four drives in Purdue territory and another at midfield, resulting in one touchdown, one field goal, one interception, one punt and one turnover on downs.

The defense could still use some tuning, even from its veterans. Freshman Cory Trice, who'd picked off a pass from Nebraska QB Adrian Martinez earlier in the game, let a drive continue on a 4th down pass interference penalty. Later in the drive, junior safety Brennan Thieneman dropped a potential interception in the end zone before Nebraska kicked a field goal to make score 14-13.

A bright spot was the play of the team's tight ends, Brycen Hopkins and Payne Durham (another redshirt freshman). Hopkins (eight catches on the day for 97 yards) keyed the eventual game-winning drive, making two grabs, including one near midfield for a first down. And earlier, Durham had danced his way to giving the Boilers a halftime lead.

Plummer had kept that drive alive on a play where he was spun around, but eluded a sack to pick up 19 yards and get Purdue into the red zone with a minute to go in the first half. Durham then caught a Plummer toss and pirouetted his way past two tacklers into the end zone, giving Purdue a 14-10 edge after 30 minutes.

Purdue must still win out to become bowl eligible, including a tough test in two weeks when the team heads to Wisconsin's Camp Randall Stadium. The Badgers are 6-2 overall, give up the fewest yards per game of any defense in the country and have been ranked in the AP Top 25 all season.

First, Purdue heads to Evanston, Illinois next week to play Northwestern (1-6, 0-5 Big Ten) -- the only team behind the Boilers in the Big Ten Conference's Western Division standings.