WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The clock read 3:44, and Nebraska’s defense knew exactly what it needed to do.
Down five to Purdue and with two timeouts, the message was this: “It was get off the field at all cost,” Husker senior linebacker Chris Weber said. “We knew we had to get out quick to get the ball back to our offense to have a chance, so that’s all we said.”
Nebraska then allowed one first down, but that was it, forcing a punt with 1:29 remaining. Tanner Lee and the offense did the rest, allowing the Huskers to escape with a 25-24 win Saturday at Ross-Ade Stadium.
It wasn’t the prettiest display of defense. On top of that, several Huskers got dinged up as the game progressed. But they gritted through it.
“They fought from snap to whistle every single down,” NU defensive coordinator Bob Diaco said. “They just kept believing. There was not a moment where any defensive unit, player or coach was disheartened and not focused on getting the job done.”
Nebraska’s defense gave up 294 yards on 53 plays to Purdue up to the 14:23 mark of the fourth quarter. After that (not counting Purdue's final desperation drive), the Blackshirts allowed 34 yards on 11 plays, including two three-and-outs.
After NU turned the ball over on downs with 3:44 remaining, the Husker defenders were off the field five plays later.
“They got awesome stops down the stretch,” Diaco said. “They had every reason to just decelerate a bit and never stopped.
“And they just kept fighting, just kept straining, just kept playing. And kudos to (the players).”
Sophomore linebacker Mohamed Barry said the Huskers just kept believing they could get the job done. Sophomore defensive lineman Carlos Davis said it was a matter of remaining positive.
“That’s the main thing,” Davis said. “You’re going to have mess-ups in the game but you just got come back from it and learn and fix it.”
That’s what the Huskers did, they made some late adjustments.
“We knew we had to alter a little bit of the call, a little bit of the front and a little bit of the coverage, so we made a few tweaks and changes,” Diaco said. “We added one more player into the mix that wasn’t in the mix against a particular personnel group. And those, really, three elements really helped.”
Nebraska’s defense finished like it started. The Blackshirts forced four straight Purdue punts to start the game, and eight for the entire game.
But Purdue found some cracks during the second and third quarters. Purdue had at least nine plays of 10 yards or more. The Boilermakers could have had more, but receivers, who had NU’s secondary beat on plays regularly, couldn’t make all of the catches. Even head coach Mike Riley noted Nebraska' needing to clean up the defensive back mistakes.
“Even when we don’t play perfect, we’re right there,” Barry said. “It just tells us we could be a way-better team if we can just keep on going and keep on being focused and getting better."
Nebraska also had several defensive players get dinged. Junior safety Antonio Reed left the game with an apparent knee injury and did not return. Fellow safety Aaron Williams was limited, and corners Lamar Jackson and Eric Lee were injured at different points, though Jackson came back.