Generally speaking, not much went right for Nebraska on Saturday afternoon at Purdue.
The offense didn’t capitalize enough times. The defense couldn’t get stops down the stretch. The Huskers couldn’t take advantage of a couple of big — and, so far this season, relatively rare — positive special-teams plays.
The result, of course, was a dispiriting 31-27 loss that stands both as NU’s third straight defeat and also the latest in a series of tossup type games that have not gone the Huskers’ way.
It’s fair, though, to recognize at least some good that came of an otherwise ugly afternoon. Among that list is the overall performance of redshirt freshman cornerback Braxton Clark, who played the most snaps of his career and impressed his teammates along the way.
“Braxton played outstanding,” sophomore safety Eli Sullivan said. “He communicated well, did his job well, took away the deep ball. That’s all we can ask him to do. He came down and made some tackles and filled in some gaps. He did a great job.”
Clark played upward of 60 snaps and was only on the sideline for around 15 defensively. The 6-foot-4, 200-pound Orlando, Florida, native started opposite senior Lamar Jackson as part of a secondary shuffle. Sophomore safety Cam Taylor-Britt came down with the flu and couldn’t make the trip, so secondary coach Travis Fisher and the staff moved junior corner Dicaprio Bootle back to safety and plugged Clark in on the edge.
“I felt I held up pretty well, but us as a team, we can always do things better, and we’re going to get back to it this bye week, we’re going to work on this,” Clark said. “It’s not a personal game, it’s a team game, so I’m not really worried about that right now.”
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Even still, it was a good showing.
Purdue tested Clark midway through the third quarter on a third-and-12 when quarterback Jack Plummer threw deep up the left sideline to speedy wide receiver Milton Wright because he knew he had Clark in one-on-one coverage. Clark handled it without issue. He’s shown in his playing time over the course of the season that he’s not afraid of playing in run support, and he also picked up an interception in fourth-quarter action against Northern Illinois.
“I’m definitely proud of him,” senior safety Eric Lee said. “(Purdue) tried to go at him deep a couple of times and he didn’t let anything happen. We knew they were going to try to test the young kid. I’m just happy and really proud of him for everything he’s overcome and that he continues to work every day.”
Said Clark of his role so far this season, “It’s all for the better. Coaches, they know what they’re doing, and if they see something and want to make a change then I’ll believe in it, and I’m always just going to come here to work. So whatever the coaches are willing to do with me or any of my teammates, we feel like it’s the best decision.”
One game doesn’t make a successful season or career for a player, but Clark is certainly a key part of NU’s short- and long-term plans. If the secondary still needs to shuffle players around, Clark showed he’s up for more playing time. In the longer view, the Huskers will need a perimeter replacement for the 6-3, 215-pound Jackson next season. Clark, with similar or even better size and length, will be part of that equation along with others like freshman Quinton Newsome and Javin Wright (currently injured) and some of NU’s incoming 2020 prospects.
For now, Clark is just worried about getting better.
“Just growing. Just gaining that confidence, getting that swag when you play on the field and just learning how to be a good football player; learning how to be assignment-driven,” he said. “Just listening to your coaches, being a leader on the field the whole time.”