The Boilermakers proved victorious despite an injury to redshirt freshman quarterback Jack Plummer, beating Nebraska 31-27 on Saturday in Ross-Ade Stadium.
Plummer was playing one of the better games of his career before going down late in the fourth quarter. He was replaced by sophomore Aidan O'Connell.
"There's no time to be nervous," O'Connell said about taking over for Plummer. "There's no time to hide in a shell. You just gotta take it like a man."
Still missing sophomore and junior wide receivers Rondale Moore and Jared Sparks, the Boilermakers (3-6, 2-4 Big Ten) used eight different receivers to maximize their passing game.
Freshman receiver David Bell, who received Big Ten Freshman of the Week two weeks in a row on Oct. 14 and Oct. 21, was subdued in the passing game by the Cornhusker secondary.
Plummer completed to Bell seven times for only 23 total yards. Bell, who was barely able to break the heavy Cornhusker pass coverage, struggled to do much in terms of yards-after-catch.
Late in the first quarter, a shovel pass from Plummer intended for sophomore running back Zander Horvath was picked off by senior defensive lineman Darrion Daniels, who ran it back to the 2-yard line. The Huskers (4-5, 2-4 Big Ten) were forced to kick a field goal though, following a strong defensive stand featuring a sack from junior defensive end Derrick Barnes.
Barnes finished the game with five total tackles.
On the ground, the young offensive line could not open up many holes for the Boilermaker run game early on, and the team recorded only 11 yards in the first quarter. Over 70 percent of those yards came courtesy of Plummer, who scrambled for eight yards.
Plummer, who threw 25-34 for 242 yards, was also the team's leading rusher, picking up 41 yards on 10 attempts.
"We got off to a slow start," said freshman running back King Doerue. "We just kept fighting through. You just have to make a couple of adjustments and keep fighting through."
The Boilermakers received a spark of life in the second quarter when Plummer took a quarterback-keeper for 18 yards. His energy was matched by Doerue, who ran 25 yards to bring them into scoring territory. The remainder of the drive was highlighted by two 20-plus yard receptions from freshman receiver Milton Wright, and a 3-yard pass to Doerue for the touchdown.
"Big credit to my O-line," Doerue said. "They played great game and they continue to get better wen by week."
Doerue finished with 71 rushing yards on 15 attempts, and had 31 yards receiving as well.
Wright was targeted two more times throughout the game, and finished with four receptions for 69 yards.
With only 14 seconds remaining in the first half, Plummer completed a 16-yard touchdown pass to redshirt freshman tight end Payne Durham, giving the Boilermakers the lead for the first time that day. The play came after a 12-play, 96-yard drive from the Boilermakers.
Defensively, the Boilers kept the Cornhuskers below 400 total yards of offense.
During the first drive of the second quarter, redshirt-freshman cornerback Cory Trice came up with his third interception of the year, giving the Boilers the ball back on their own 12-yard line. The favor was quickly returned though, when senior cornerback Lamar Jackson picked off Plummer's pass to Bell.
Despite their second turnover, the Boilermakers stopped the Huskers relatively quickly, forcing them into their third 3-and-out of the day.
Nebraska, a traditionally run-heavy team, was only able to gain 93 yards from four rushers.
The Cornhuskers went for it on fourth down in their opening drive of the half. The pass was incomplete, but a pass interference call on Trice gave the Huskers an automatic first down in the red zone.
The Huskers then got as close as the 4-yard line, but another defensive stand from the Boiler defense, and third down pass broken up by junior safety Brennan Thieneman, limited the Cornhuskers to another field goal. Sophomore kicker Barret Pickering made his second field goal of the day, this one from 21 yards, to make the score 14-13, Purdue.
Nebraska senior safety Eric Lee Jr. blocked Purdue's punt with six minutes left in the third quarter, Nebraska's second blocked punt on the day. The Huskers took over at the 30-yard line, but was unable to capitalize, failing to convert on fourth down and giving the ball right back to Purdue.
Purdue's ensuing drive was dominated by Horvath, who caught 40 yards worth of screen passes, bringing the Boiler offense to the 29-yard line. The drive resulted in Dellinger's first field goal of the day, from 44 yards.
The Huskers responded with an 11-play, 75-yard drive of their own, ending in a 2-yard touchdown run from sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez, giving Nebraska the lead in the fourth quarter.
Martinez threw 17-28 and 178 yards, and had 54 yards rushing off 11 attempts.
Purdue hit back midway through the fourth, with huge offensive efforts from Doerue as well as fifth-year tight end Brycen Hopkins. Hopkins led the team offensively, with eight receptions for 97 yards. Doerue capped off the drive with three carries, the last one being a 7-yard touchdown run.
"It was intense," Doerue said. "I was just thinking we gotta pop off a big play, put points on the board."
Nebraska took the lead back once again with 4 and a half minutes remaining, making the score 27 to 24 for the Cornhuskers.
With only minutes remaining in the game, O'Connell went 6-6 passing, targeting Hopkins for 42 yards in a 82-yard march to the end zone. Head coach Jeff Brohm opened up his book of trick plays to finished the drive, pitching the ball to Bell on a sweep into to score.
"We felt good about it," Doerue said. "We knew it was man coverage, so it left David (Bell) wide open."
The Cornhuskers' final pass was tipped by Barnes, giving the Boilermakers the ball with less than a minute remaining, ensuring a Purdue victory of 31 to 27.
"It was a big win for our football team, and something that we needed," Brohm said. "I think our guys came and competed and played hard and that's what we had to do.
"While it wasn't perfect at all, and there were numerous mistakes here and there, I think guys stepped up."
• Purdue returns to action at noon next Saturday at Northwestern. The game will be broadcast by the Big Ten Network.
• Purdue football alumnus Drew Brees was in attendance during Saturday's win. He addressed the team prior to the game and was the face of Shout at the end of the third quarter.