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Huskers save best for last, edge Boilermakers in West Lafayette

Junior nose tackle Mick Stoltenberg (44) thanks Husker fans in attendance at Ross Ade Stadium Saturday night in West Lafayette, IN. Nebraska topped Purdue 25-24.

 

By Tommy Rezac

The Nebraska Cornhuskers saved their best, at least offensively, for the final 1:22 of Saturday night’s game against Purdue.

The Huskers (4-4 overall, 3-2 Big Ten) drove 80 yards in 68 seconds and edged the Boilermakers (3-5 overall, 1-4 Big Ten), 25-24, after Tanner Lee found receiver Stanley Morgan on a 13-yard touchdown with just 14 seconds remaining.

Nebraska erased a 24-12 deficit, tying the largest fourth quarter comeback in school history.

“Top to bottom, when it mattered most, our team stepped up,” Lee said afterward. “On the road, in the cold, that was a lot of fun, and I’m really glad our team got it done.”

On a night where temperatures were hovering around 38 degrees at kickoff, Nebraska’s run game froze, tallying a season-low 40 yards on the ground.

“We didn’t play perfectly at all as we know,” head coach Mike Riley said. “A lot of rough spots, but the kids never blinked. Neither did the coaches. They kept working at it. I think there was always the confidence that we could move the ball. I’m not sure exactly if we ever found consistency on the ground.”

One running back who provided a spark was true freshman Jaylin Bradley, who had seven carries for a career-high 42 yards, including a 20-yard run which gave Nebraska a first and goal late in the third quarter.

“I think everybody got a chance to see what we’d been talking about tonight (when it comes to Bradley),” Riley said. “He’s got some real burst, he’s got great feet, great vision. Pretty exciting. We didn’t get a lot going in the running game, but what he did in the running game might have made a big difference in the game.”

Lee made up for the lack of rushing yards through the air, passing for a career-high 431 yards on a 32-of-50 completion rate. He also had two touchdowns.

Lee’s 431 yards ties Zac Taylor for fourth most passing yards in a single game in Nebraska history.

“Tanner was outstanding,” Riley said. “One (throw) in particular with somebody right in his face to J.D. (Spielman) near the end there. That was like a big, big, big-time quarterback play. Very, very exciting.”

Lee had a 10-yard pass to Spielman on the Huskers’ final drive that not only gave Nebraska a first down inside the red zone, but also put him above 400 yards on the night.

Lee completed 7/8 passes for 70 yards on a touchdown on Nebraska’s game-winning drive.

“That was a beautifully done drive,” Riley said. “What our players did catching the ball and getting out of bounds. The time that was used was correct. It was just pretty well done.”

Nebraska tight end Tyler Hoppes was big on the final drive with a 17-yard catch, and was a reliable target all night. The Lincoln Southwest alum finished with a career-high five catches and a career-high 105 yards and a touchdown.

His TD grab came with 11:03 left in the game, and it put Nebraska to within five points.

“(Tanner Lee) is a leader,” Hoppes said. “That’s all I can really say. Every down, every time we’re on the sideline, (he said), “Hey, let’s get going. We’re going to go out here and win this game.’ I’ll follow that guy any day.”

Another area where Nebraska struggled Saturday night, and has throughout the season, was red zone offense. The Huskers made six red zone trips, but only scored one touchdown (the last one) while inside Purdue’s 20-yard-line.

Nebraska’s 77.4 percent efficiency rate in the red zone ranks 100th in FBS and and 13th in the Big Ten.

The Huskers came away with points in five of their six red zone trips Saturday, thanks to senior kicker Drew Brown.

He was a perfect 4-for-4 on field goals, including a season-long 44-yard kick in the first quarter.

“Thank God for Drew Brown,” Riley said. “He’s had one of the most consistent years. I’m talking even day-to-day in practice of a kicker I’ve been around. He was just terrific tonight.”

Nebraska is back home Saturday to face Northwestern (5-3, 3-2 Big Ten) at Memorial Stadium. Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m.

Big Red Replay

You can contact Tommy at 402-840-5226, or you can follow him on Twitter @Tommy_KLIN.

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