WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) — Purdue running back Devin Mockobee softened Nebraska's defense with his powerful runs.
Aidan O'Connell kept the Boilermakers chugging by cleaning up with closeout plays.
Together, it was electric combination. O'Connell threw four touchdown passes and Mockobee ran for a career-high 178 yards and another score Saturday as Purdue overpowered Nebraska 43-37.
“He (O'Connell) probably had five or six throws that I don’t think anyone could make — throws that were just off the charts," Purdue coach Jeff Brohm said. “We thought we had a decent plan to get him (Mockobee) on the edge, get him in space and, of course, he runs hard. He doesn’t care who he plays, he runs hard.”
The result: Purdue (5-2, 3-1 Big Ten) has won four straight and remains atop the conference's West Division, tied with No. 24 Illinois.
To Nebraska (3-4, 2-2), the strategy was hardly a surprise.
They knew O’Connell had played well all season, but Mockobee provided a spark for Purdue's struggling ground game and the Cornhuskers couldn't keep either under control as its two-game winning streak under interim coach Mickey Joseph ended.
Mockabee barreled through defenders, eluded tackles and even showed his shiftiness in the open field. He surpassed his previous single-game rushing total before scoring on a 1-yard run with 35 seconds left in the first half.
O'Connell, meanwhile, seemingly made all the right calls including a 3-yard scramble on fourth-and-1 from midfield with 2:59 to go that finally closed out the victory.
“That guy just doesn't make mistakes with the football,” Jospeh said, referring to O'Connell. “He’s been in this program for six years and he doesn't make mistakes.”
Trey Palmer didn't make any mistakes for Nebraska, either.
He almost single-handedly kept Nebraska close with one big play after another after Purdue took a 27-13 halftime lead.
On the fifth play of the second half, Palmer cut a 37-yard TD pass to cut the deficit in half. On the next series, his 60-yard run set up a field goal to make it 27-23. Then, after TJ Sheffield extended the Boilermakers' lead with 28-yard TD catch, Palmer immediately answered with a 72-yard TD catch to make it 34-30.
And even when it appeared a 2-yard scoring pass from O'Connell to Jones with 6:55 to go closed it out, Palmer caught a 64-yard pass to set up Anthony Grant's 1-yard TD run with 5:55 left.
But O'Connell's fourth-down conversion made sure Nebraska didn't touch the ball again.
“Another four-quarter game that went down to the wire,” Brohm said. “Not the way we drew it up. It looks like they’re all going to be that way, but it feels good to get the win.”
Nebraska: There's no doubt this has been a different team since Joseph took over. But the defensive woes that plagued the Huskers earlier this season returned Saturday. Joseph now has two weeks to prepare for Illini running back Chase Brown to keep their fading division hopes alive.
Purdue: While a favorable schedule certainly has helped, Brohm's squad has improved steadily. It's getting more players involved in the offense and some key pieces back on defense — perhaps in time to make run at its first conference championship game appearance.
Nebraska: Palmer had seven receptions for a career-high 237 yards and two scores. He also finished as Nebraska’s leading rusher despite having only one carry. ... Thompson was 16-of-29 passing for 354 yards with two TDs and two interceptions. ... Nebraska ran 52 plays compared to Purdue’s 101.
Purdue: Charlie Jones had 12 receptions, 132 yards and two touchdowns. He has four 100-yard games this season, five in his career. ... O’Connell was 35 of 54 with 391 yards and one interception. ... The Boilermakers matched their season-high with four sacks, all coming in the first half.
HE SAID IT
“With a team like that when they’re scoring points, you've got to chase points, too,” Joseph said before talking about a 25-minute disparity in possession time. “The defense fought — they fought. But it’s tough to do that.”
Nebraska: Hosts No. 24 Illinois on Oct. 29.
Purdue: Visits struggling Wisconsin next Saturday.