LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — For Nebraska, the final stretch of the season is all about gaining bowl eligibility.
Considering the Cornhuskers (3-5, 1-4 Big Ten) would need to go 3-1 against a difficult schedule, Saturday’s game against Purdue is as close as it gets to a must win.
“We can’t afford to have any attention on anything else besides Purdue,” quarterback Adrian Martinez said. “We need this win and ultimately if we want to go to a bowl game we need to beat Purdue. It’s as simple as that for us.”
The Huskers are in their longest bowl drought since 1955-61 and in danger of not going to a postseason game for a fifth straight year. After Purdue, Nebraska plays fifth-ranked Ohio State at home, Wisconsin on the road and No. 9 Iowa at home.
The Huskers are 7 1/2-point favorites against Purdue, according to FanDuel Sportsbook. Though the Huskers haven’t lost any game by more than eight points, and players and coaches have hammered the point that they believe the program has made progress, fans and media see bowl eligibility as the true measuring stick for fourth-year coach Scott Frost.
“There are some areas we need to fix, but I think people are recognizing the type of team we have and the level we are playing at,” Frost said. “It’s up to us to make the plays when it counts to get over the hump.”
Purdue (4-3, 2-2) is in a position similar to Nebraska. The Boilermakers are tied with Wisconsin for second in the Big Ten West, one game behind Iowa and Minnesota, and would need help to win the division.
They also need two wins to avoid staying home during bowl season for a third straight year. They still have to play No. 8 Michigan State at home, on the road against Ohio State, Northwestern at home and at Indiana.
“It’s a one-game season, and this is an important game just like all of them,” said Purdue coach Jeff Brohm, whose team committed five turnovers in a 30-13 home loss to Wisconsin last week. “We’ve got to do a lot more things better and more efficiently and be more detailed and disciplined in our approach during the game and execute at a high level in order to win.”
Frost had said after the loss at Minnesota two weeks ago that Martinez had been bothered by one or more undisclosed injuries. The coach said this week his quarterback is “100%” for Purdue.
“He has been dealing with quite a bit of stuff and fighting through stuff, and he is a warrior for doing it. He will be a full go,” Frost said.
The Boilermakers have the Big Ten’s top-rated pass defense and are fourth in total defense and scoring defense. But they gave up 331 yards rushing to Wisconsin. Expect Nebraska, averaging 211 rushing yards per game, to challenge Purdue on the ground.
“We’ve just got to tackle better when we’ve got people in space,” Brohm said. “We’ve got to get guys to the ground. Those guys played hard, and they’re giving us everything they have.”
Nebraska is averaging 9.47 yards per pass attempt to rank seventh in the nation. The Huskers are on pace to set a school record in that category.
ALLEN ALL RIGHT
Nebraska’s Austin Allen leads Big Ten tight ends with six receptions of at least 20 yards, with five coming in the last two games. He ranks among the top three among Big Ten tight ends in receptions, receptions per game, yards per catch and total receiving yards.
Wisconsin held the Boilermakers to a season-low 219 yards through the air, and star receiver David Bell had just six catches for a season-low 33 yards. That freed up tight end Payne Durham to make a a career-best nine catches for 112 yards and a touchdown.
Brohm said future opponents might try to copy the Badgers’ coverage against Bell.
“They dropped the safety down to his side, not real low, and kept him in a window where he could play the quarterback and be in that intermediate window where David has caught a lot of balls,” Brohm said. “They dropped eight (in coverage) quite a bit when we had to throw and they knew we weren’t going to run as much. It’s tough to get guys open when they’re doing that.”
AP Sports Writer Michael Marot in Indiana contributed to this report.
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