Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

Nebraska vs. Purdue, 10/28/17

Nebraska tight end Tyler Hoppes (88) celebrates his touchdown against Purdue during the fourth quarter at Ross-Ade Stadium on Saturday.


WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Be real. Admit it. Nobody will blame you.

Even if you bleed Nebraska red, you perhaps gave up on the Huskers on Saturday night, especially when they trailed Purdue by 12 points in the fourth quarter. You cussed because, among other things, Purdue was running the ball much better than NU much of the game. That had to be embarrassing for Big Red.

As for Nebraska's 25-24 comeback win? Well, it felt a bit awkward. Some folks who bleed Husker red won't like it. Those are the folks who are hoping for a change in leadership in an enormously proud football program.

However, I hope even those folks — the ones who have given up on third-year head coach Mike Riley — can find it within themselves to appreciate this triumph.

"Write about that sh--!!" a Nebraska recruiting assistant shouted while glaring my way as he ran toward the locker room.

Yes, there was a "take this and shove it" feel attached to the win. The negativity directed toward the Nebraska program has become pervasive. Folks openly speculate about who might replace Riley. You hear it from in-state media. You hear it from national media. It's only natural. Those back-to-back home losses to Wisconsin (38-17) and Ohio State (56-14) were the final straw for many fans.

But these dogs in scarlet and cream still have some bite. Some fire. I saw it in the eyes of that recruiting assistant.

I also heard it in the voice of Riley as he entered the locker room and addressed his team after NU improved to 4-4 overall and 3-2 in the Big Ten.

"How about those Huskers!?" he exclaimed.

And you heard not only fire in his voice, but also utter joy. Even if you think he's the wrong guy to lead the program, at least a part of you had to feel good for him on this crisp night. This season has become largely about Riley. He's the focus. He's under fire. And he handles it with a remarkable amount of class and grace. That's something to appreciate as well.

I'm sure his new boss, Bill Moos, is impressed with that part. He has to be. Moos was on the scene Saturday for the first time as Nebraska athletic director. He's still learning about Riley's program. As of the middle of last week, he wasn't even sure what type of offense the Huskers were running. As of halftime, he maybe still didn't know.

He has a better idea now. Moos perhaps also has an inkling that maybe this Riley guy — as well as offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf — know how to pick a quarterback. My heavens, Tanner Lee was superb, completing 32 of 50 passes for a career-high 431 yards and two touchdowns. It was just the seventh 400-yard passing game in school history. He has found a groove in the past 4 1/2 games.

He needed every last yard in this one. He gunned a 13-yard strike over the middle to junior stalwart Stanley Morgan for the game winner, which capped an eight-play, 70-yard drive that lasted 1:08 and left Purdue with only 14 seconds. Langsdorf made a great play call, sending Morgan over the middle on a night that he ran routes mostly to the outside.

"Tanner was outstanding," Riley said.

He needed to be, as Nebraska's running game was anemic for much of the night — the Huskers ended up with just 40 yards on 27 carries. But they got a surprising boost from true freshman Jaylin Bradley, who bounced outside for a 20-yard run in the third quarter and ended up with 42 yards on seven carries. He was a difference-maker, Riley said.

The Nebraska defense tackled poorly much of the night, but came up with critical stops in the fourth quarter. Yeah, those dogs still have some bite. Moos had to appreciate that part in a big way. He had to wonder if this team was still fighting for its embattled head coach. For much of the game, you wondered a bit. But in the end, you had to appreciate the spirit.

"This team had it in them all the time," Riley said.

But Nebraska had shown to be so ordinary that it entered the night as a four-point underdog to a Purdue program that is now 12-44 since 2013.

Riley said he hopes his players derive confidence from the victory. I said last week I think Nebraska can go 4-1 in its final five regular-season games and get to 7-5. Would Riley be safe at that point?

Let's forget that conversation for now. Let's allow Nebraska to enjoy the comeback. How about those Huskers?

"(Screw) this place!" shouted De'Mornay Pierson-El as he headed to the locker room after the game. He was talking about the stadium. He stared at the end zone where he tore up his knee in 2015.

He conquered the pain, the place, the opponent and the circumstances.

Yeah, it felt good, no matter what anyone else says.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or On Twitter @HuskerExtraSip.


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