WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — As De'Mornay Pierson-El was being attended to by team doctors, fellow Nebraska receiver Stanley Morgan stared at the scene, clearly concerned about his friend.
"With all the stuff he's been through this season, it was just heartbreaking to me," Morgan said Saturday. "He's been working so hard to get back and for something like that to happen, it can bring you down."
As if Nebraska's 55-45 loss to Purdue wasn't difficult enough, Pierson-El's latest injury — a left-knee ailment sustained in the end zone moments after Morgan's second-quarter touchdown catch — represents another blow to a team that has absorbed more than its share this season.
Pierson-El was carted off the field. He watched the second half on crutches from the sideline. Nebraska head coach Mike Riley said he would know more Sunday about the extent of the injury.
Said Morgan: "I really don't know what exactly happened for sure, but I know he was trying to celebrate with me in the end zone, and he went down."
One can't help but wonder how Pierson-El's absence affected Nebraska as it fell to 3-6 (1-4 Big Ten). A 5-foot-9, 185-pound sophomore, Pierson-El is one of the team's most explosive weapons, both as a receiver and return man. He missed the season's first four games with a fractured right foot suffered in an Aug. 18 practice.
He entered Saturday with 11 receptions for 99 yards and a touchdown. He also had returned four punts for 48 yards, with a long of 42. He had one reception for 12 yards against Purdue before being injured.
"I feel for the guy. We all feel for the guy," said Nebraska junior wide receiver Lane Hovey, who had two catches for 33 yards and a touchdown. "We all love each other as receivers and football players on the team. We're all brothers. Any time you see something happen like that, you get a pit in your stomach."
Nebraska played without injured junior wideout Alonzo Moore, the team's third-leading receiver, who has a shoulder issue. Another junior, Jordan Westerkamp, came through with another big day — nine receptions for a season-high 123 yards, including a 35-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Meanwhile, junior Brandon Reilly finished with five receptions for 88 yards, including an 8-yard touchdown grab in the fourth quarter.
Nebraska has excellent depth at receiver. Morgan had three receptions for 26 yards, including the 20-yard touchdown grab that pulled the Huskers to 14-9 and elicited joy from Pierson-El.
"The coaches are telling us to just keep working hard and stick together — we're a family," Morgan said.