Nebraska was wrapping up an unlikely ascension into the Top 10 when it faced Purdue last season - an occurrence that may have as well happened a lifetime ago for embattled coach Mike Riley. The Cornhuskers hope to recover from consecutive routs against two of the Big Ten’s elite programs Saturday when they come off a bye week to face Purdue.
After a 6-7 campaign in his first year at the helm in 2015, Nebraska won its first seven games in 2016 - a stretch that reached a head following a 27-14 home win against Purdue - and rose to No. 6 in the coaches’ poll before consecutive losses to Wisconsin and Ohio State. A 3-2 start in his third year at the helm quickly dissolved whatever goodwill last season established before the Badgers and Buckeyes made Riley’s seat that much hotter by outscoring the Cornhuskers 94-31 in Lincoln to begin October. The Boilermakers, who upset Nebraska 55-45 two years ago in West Lafayette, gave Wisconsin all it could handle two weeks ago in a 17-9 setback in Madison before they were stunned 14-12 at Rutgers last weekend. “We’re going to have to figure it out and improve. We have a long ways to go. While it is, in my opinion, two steps backward, those things happen. As upset as I am and our team is, you have to use it as fuel to drive,” first-year coach Jeff Brohm told reporters after the game.
TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network. LINE: Purdue -5.5.
ABOUT NEBRASKA (3-4, 2-2 Big Ten): Riley announced Monday that sophomore running back Tre Bryant, who still ranks second on the team with 299 yards rushing despite missing the last five games, will likely miss the rest of the season with a knee injury and is expected to undergo “corrective” surgery Tuesday. JD Spielman set a single-game school record with 200 yards receiving and broke a Nebraska freshman single-game mark with 11 receptions before injuring his shoulder late in the Cornhuskers’ 56-14 loss to the Buckeyes on Oct. 14 but is expected to play against Purdue. Nebraska’s 79th-ranked pass defense may finally be getting healthy, however, as safeties Joshua Kalu (hamstring), Antonio Reed (knee) and Aaron Williams (neck) all may be able to play versus the Boilermakers.
ABOUT PURDUE (3-4, 1-3): Brohm remained non-committal in regards to whether or not Elijah Sindelar (907 yards passing, six touchdowns, five interceptions) or David Blough (745, eight, four) would start at quarterback against Nebraska, but he did suggest the coaching staff is “fine with riding out” whomever that quarterback is “if that person does well.” After totaling 228 yards on the ground over their previous three contests, the Boilermakers rushed for a season-high 279 yards against the Scarlet Knights, including season-high totals from their top two running backs in D.J. Knox (84) and Markell Jones (68). Purdue forced nine three-and-outs and 12 punts - tying a Boilermaker school record by an opponent - on 14 possessions last weekend against Rutgers.
1. Nineteen of Spielman’s 31 receptions have come on third or fourth down, tying him for the third-most catches in those situations in FBS. His five fourth-down receptions are the most in the nation.
2. Purdue has allowed 135 points through the first seven games of the season - its lowest total after as many games since 2004.
3. Cornhuskers RB Devine Ozigbo needs 28 rushing yards to become the 65th player in school history to amass at least 1,000 career rushing yards.
PREDICTION: Nebraska 20, Purdue 19