Tommy Armstrong understood what Saturday was about.
That's why he was visibly disgusted.
That's why his body language shouted "defeat" even though 15th-ranked Nebraska had just beaten Purdue 35-14 at Memorial Stadium.
The Husker sophomore quarterback respects Purdue. But he respects Wisconsin more, and therein lies the rub.
Beating Purdue is nice, especially considering Ameer Abdullah's absence for three-fourths of the game. Abdullah is, after all, one of college football's best players, regardless of position. That's all.
But this was about Nebraska building steam for a big finish, starting with a bye week followed by a Big Ten West Division playoff matchup of sorts Nov. 15 at Wisconsin.
Here comes the homestretch, and it looked like the Husker offense dropped its whip.
"If we play a good team like Wisconsin or Iowa, and we turn the ball over as many times as we did, and make as many mistakes as we did, we're going to lose," Armstrong said flatly.
Nebraska improved to 8-1 overall and 4-1 in the conference. Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota are 3-1. NU still must play all three. It should be a blast.
I tend to agree with Husker running back Imani Cross. Relax everyone, he said. Try to have some fun.
Relax? Fun? Imagine that.
Dirk Chatelain/Omaha World-Herald: It's a win, but Huskers' Offensive ugliness glares.
On one hand, NU is 8-1 for the first time since 2010. NU controls its destiny in the Big Ten West and has an outside shot at the College Football Playoff. NU scored 42 and 35 points the past two weeks. All good news.
On the other hand, the standard should be higher than beating Rutgers and Purdue. Nebraska’s offense limped through Saturday like a three-legged dog. If the Boilermakers had any offensive explosiveness, this would’ve gone down to the wire.
When Nebraska could’ve put the game away, its fourth-quarter possessions looked like this:
Three and out. Punt.
Three and out. Punt.
Then it got worse. After the Blackshirts stopped Purdue on downs, Nebraska’s offense took over at the 23-yard line. On first down, Armstrong fumbled a snap from center Mark Pelini. Then Bo Pelini was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct — he wasn’t sure why.
On second-and-25, Cross nearly fumbled; officials ruled him down by contact. On third-and-23, Armstrong threw it right to a Purdue defensive back, who dropped it.
By that point, 20 percent of Memorial Stadium had cleared out. The other 80 percent was covering its eyes.
Mike Carmine/Indianpolis Star: Nebraska knocks off Purdue 35-14
Purdue did outgain the Huskers 340-297, but the Huskers' defense made it difficult for Appleby and company to gain a lot of traction. The two punt blocks — by Kieron Williams and Brandon Reilly — in the first half led directly to 14 points. Punter Thomas Meadows and the group have been solid all season. Until Saturday, that is.
"I had people telling me different things," Meadows said. "I would have to look at the film to tell you to be sure. Execution just needs to be better all the way around for everybody, especially myself."
Despite the miscues, the Huskers kept the Boilermakers close. Armstrong was intercepted twice — both by safety Landon Feichter — and Nebraska had three turnovers overall.
"Sloppy. That's about it," Huskers coach Bo Pelini said of his the offensive performance.
Purdue, though, didn't get a first down until its fifth possession and converted only 2-of-16 on third down.
Saturday was another case of the Boilermakers still searching for that complete performance where all three phases play well.
The offense had its moments, but the length of each scoring drive was just 32 yards. The defense played physical up front, especially in the middle, and linebackers Ja'Whaun Bentley and Danny Ezechukwu combined for 23 tackles. The play of special teams slowed any progress.
Three games remain and Purdue has to win out if it wants to reach one of its goals of playing in a bowl game. That will be hard to do without Anthrop and maybe Williams.
Tom Shatel/Omaha World-Herald: As they look to Mad City, Huskers show they can drive you crazy.
Nebraska is 8-1, and this doesn’t just happen anymore, not every year or every other year. With three games left, the Huskers have all sorts of goodies on the table: Big Ten title chances, 11 wins, big boy bowl trips, etc., etc.
They’ve won every game they were favored in and lost the one time they weren’t. And 8-1 means they’ve been more consistent this year, avoided the annual case of the hiccups.
But after nine games — especially the ninth game — we’re back to where we started with the analysis of this bunch.
The Huskers have championship talent. But not nearly enough championship execution.
The question is, can the playmaking outweigh the sloppy play? Can the Huskers "talent" their way to a Big Ten title?
Not without Abdullah they can’t.
This team that pounds the rock needs its rock, its heart and soul. Abdullah is the best player on the chess board. He changes opponents’ game plans. He’s the pinball that makes the scoreboard light up on any play.
Moreover, he makes bad things go away. See McNeese State. See Northwestern. See any game he’s played in.
Nebraska needs its Superman when it travels to Wisconsin in two weeks, and that’s a healthy Superman. That is, a Superman who is running with total confidence, not a guy with an injury that nags and keeps him on the sideline for possessions at a time. See Rex Burkhead.
You need that because this Wisconsin team is coming. The Badgers seem to have figured something out. They have something resembling a stable quarterback now. And they know exactly who they are.
On Saturday, the Badgers rushed for 298 yards at Rutgers, 6.5 yards a pop, with 35:16 in time of possession. They can’t throw it, but man can they hoof it. Heisman Trophy candidate Melvin Gordon rushed 19 times for 128 yards (6.7) and took a back seat to Corey Clement (14-131, 9.4).
The Wisconsin game is going to be a Smash Festival, chin straps required. NU will need Abdullah for this one.
Travis Miller/Hammer and Rails: Nebraska 35, Purdue 14: More Patience is Needed.
In all this, Nebraska was never great, but showed that they were a better team with more talent. They worse Purdue down. They played great pass coverage and never let the ground game get totally rolling. They took advantage of tons of drops by Purdue receivers like Cameron Posey, Dan Monteroso, DeAngelo Yancey, and Gabe Holmes. Instead of taking the game Purdue, they waited for a younger Purdue team to make mistakes. Once Danny Anthrop went down with his injury, There wasn't a lot Purdue could do offensively. Austin Appleby had to throw to receivers that kept dropping passes, was too far behind to run the ball, and Appleby was running from a defensive line that could bring pressure late.
That was the biggest difference today. Neither team played well, but Nebraska can afford to not play well at times and win. Purdue is not to the point where it cannot play well and still win. Multiple players alluded to getting everything firing at the same time and that's true. In the last two weeks the offense performed well, but the defense let them down. Today the defense played well, but the passing game was plagued by drops and the special teams, especially the punting unit, was atrocious.
Everything is in front of the #Huskers . But man, the competition has been awful.— Dirk Chatelain (@dirkchatelain) November 2, 2014
#Huskers 11 pass breakups today is the most by a Husker team since 2009 vs. Oklahoma (12)— Nebraska Huskers (@Huskers) November 2, 2014
More Westerkamp on INT's & his wrong route running: "They were just really bad decisions on my part." I like #Huskers players accountability— John Gaskins (@937JohnGaskins) November 2, 2014
"We want to prove we have the best backfield in the nation." -Newby, on #Huskers remaining games.— John Gaskins (@937JohnGaskins) November 2, 2014
Give the blackshirt major props for handling the Boot game by Purdue. You could see the guys reading their keys and calling it out. #Huskers— Mike'l Severe (@MikelSevere) November 1, 2014
Nebraska has held opposing QBs under 50% completions in 5 straight games. Holding opponents to 46.9% on the season. #Huskers— Dan Hoppen (@danhoppen) November 2, 2014