WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - When Nebraska's defensive linemen heard they were going to be facing a true freshman quarterback making his first career start on Saturday they were licking their chops.
Even coming off a bye week Purdue quarterback Danny Etling had no chance on Saturday. It took about three plays for the former four-star quarterback out of Indiana to figure out what type of day it was going to be.
The Huskers got after Etling early and often and did what you are supposed to do to a freshman quarterback. As they left West Lafayette on Saturday they could hold their heads high after shutting down Purdue 44-7 and holding them to just 216 total yards of offense. The win was another step for head coach Bo Pelini and defensive coordinator John Papuchis's group as they move into their second bye week before traveling to Minnesota on Oct. 26.
"We knew going into the year this was going to be a work in progress, but you don't know how fast the results are going to come," Papuchis said. "We've gotten a little bit better as we've gone. We had some peaks and some valleys. If we continue to stay on this track we are going to be the defense we all thought we were going to be.
"When you look at it we aren't going to graduate any guys on the front seven for a long time. Hopefully this is the making of a pretty good group for not just now, but down the road."
What was impressive on Saturday was you didn't see very many missed tackles or coverage busts. NU got Purdue off the field and made them earn everything they got.
The special teams also played a big factor, as the Boilermakers started inside the 25 yard line on their first 13 possessions. They didn't cross the 50 yard line until late in the fourth quarter.
"Our confidence is skyrocketing," redshirt freshman defensive end Avery Moss said. "We've got DB's getting picks, linemen getting sacks and linebackers making plays on the ball. Every area is making plays and it gives everybody confidence within each other."
The only thing that kept the day from being perfect was a 55 yard touchdown pass from Etling with 39 seconds left.
The competitor in Papuchis obviously wanted the shutout, as it would've been Nebraska's first since the 2009 Holiday Bowl and their first road shutout since the 1997 Kansas game. However, he's not going to let one play spoil what was a nearly perfect day for the Blackshirts.
"I wanted (the shutout) pretty bad, but in reality I think you have to keep things in perspective a little bit," Papuchis said. "(Purdue) throwing that pass on the last play with us emptying out our bench doesn't take away from what we did today - it really doesn't.
"You would've loved to statistically have the shutout and hold them to under 200 yards, but I don't want that to diminish what our guys were able to accomplish today."
On to the post game grade out
What I saw on Saturday
***The Huskers may have won the game Saturday, but the loss of offensive lineman Spencer Long is significant. Without Long blocking on the interior, NU had a hard time running inside and even gave up a sack to Bruce Gaston where Long normally would be. It was only the third sack they've given up all season.
***Bo Pelini improved to 15-6 in conference road games on Saturday. That's not a bad stat to hang your hat on.
***Hopefully some of the Tommy Armstrong should replace Taylor Martinez talk will cool off after today. Armstrong is obviously very talented, but he still has a ways to go. This team needs Martinez in November. The key is they need him healthy.
***One of the most surprising stats of the game was wide receiver Quincy Enunwa had three dropped passes and the Huskers had four on the day. At least two of the dropped passes today for NU would've went for touchdowns.
***I thought freshman linebacker Nate Gerry played his best game of the season on Saturday. Gerry did a nice job of tackling and making plays in space.
***How about defensive end Randy Gregory. If he keeps playing like this he's going to force Pelini's hand on getting that Blackshirt.
***I wasn't surprised they threw a flag on cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste on Saturday for his hit, but I was shocked he was thrown out of the game. Thankfully his suspension won't carry over to next week since he sat out two halves on Saturday.
The final grades
Rushing offense: C
Nebraska ran for 251 yards on 56 carries, but they had to work extremely hard to earn those yards. Nothing came easy today for the Huskers on the ground. Purdue really loaded up the box at times daring the Huskers to throw.
Passing offense: D
Four dropped passes, including two that would've been touchdowns really hurt NU's final stat line on Saturday. Armstrong finished 6-of-18 for just 43 yards. He also threw three interceptions. Heading into Saturday NU had thrown just one pick on the season. Thankfully the Huskers didn't need to rely on their passing game for much on Saturday, because Armstrong wasn't at his best. Ron Kellogg was a serviceable 10-of-13 for 141 yards, including a touchdown pass to Enunwa.
Rushing defense: A
Purdue may have the worst running game in the Big Ten. The Boilermakers only ran it 25 times for a total of 32 yards. NU did a nice job of gang tackling and not letting Purdue break-off any long runs. Purdue didn't have a run longer than 18 yards all day.
Passing defense: A
Nebraska got constant pressure on Etling sacking him five times. Etling finished just 14-of-35 for 184 yards. 55 of those yards came in the final minute of the game a touchdown pass against the Huskers back-up defense. It was a complete defensive game all around on Saturday.
Special teams: A
NU's special teams dominated the field position game, forcing Purdue to start inside their 25 yard line on their first 13 possessions. Sam Foltz also averaged 43.8 yards on six punts, including placing three inside the 20 yard line. The Huskers even sniffed out a desperate fake punt attempt by the Boilermakers. Hats off to Jordan Westerkamp as well, who cleanly field four punts on Saturday.
Sean Callahan can be reached at [email protected] and he can be heard each day at 6:50 am and 4:50 pm on Big Red Radio 1110 KFAB in Omaha during the football season. He can also be seen on KETV Channel 7 TV in Omaha during the fall and each week he appears on NET's Big Red Wrap Tuesday's at 7 pm.