LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) With Ameer Abdullah out most of the game with a knee injury, Nebraska slogged through a win over Purdue and now has two weeks to get their Heisman Trophy hopeful healed for the No. 17 Cornhuskers’ showdown with Wisconsin.
Imani Cross, Abdullah’s backup, ran for two short touchdowns in a 35-14 victory Saturday that moved Nebraska into sole possession of first place in the Big Ten West.
The Huskers (8-1, 4-1, No. 15 CFP) are a half-game ahead of Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin after their third straight win. The question now is whether Abdullah will be able to play against the Badgers in what could be the game of the year in the West.
”We’re very optimistic,” coach Bo Pelini said.
Cornerback Josh Mitchell, who had two of Nebraska’s three sacks, said he spoke with Abdullah after the game and is confident the Husker’ star will be ready.
”He’s going to be all right,” Mitchell said. ”He’s a warrior. He wanted to be out there and play if he could. He’s tough. He’ll be back.”
Abdullah, who came into the game third nationally in rushing at 156 yards a game, mildly sprained and bruised his left knee on the Huskers’ second possession while recovering Tommy Armstrong Jr.’s fumbled snap at the Purdue 1-yard line. Abdullah returned to carry one more time, losing 5 yards, and didn’t return.
The senior has run for at least 200 yards in a nation-leading four games and has 1,250 for the season.
With Abdullah out, Nebraska continued to pound away with the run as winds gusting to 30 mph made it tough to pass. Cross carried 20 times for 66 yards and Terrell Newby added ran nine times for 42.
The Huskers had a season-low 297 total yards after playing much of the game on a short field. Their average starting field position was their own 49.
”I thought our defense played great, they really did,” Purdue coach Darrell Hazell said. ”They were put in some bad situations.”
In addition to his fumble, Armstrong threw two interceptions and was just 8 of 21 for 118 yards. He did run for 70 yards, including a 29-yard TD.
”I’m embarrassed,” Armstrong said. ”The way we played, we should have lost. I feel like I failed. We got a win, but we play a team like Wisconsin or Iowa, it’s not going to be pretty.”
Purdue (3-6, 1-4) converted only 2 of 16 third downs, but stayed in the game into the fourth quarter.
Austin Appleby hit Cameron Posey for a 23-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 28-14, and the Boilers were set up in Nebraska territory again when Landon Feichter intercepted his second pass of the game. But Purdue turned the ball over on downs.
Nebraska tacked on a touchdown on Newby’s 7-yard run after Purdue failed to convert on fourth down for the fourth of five times in the second half.
The Boilers had scored 31 or more points in three straight games with Appleby as the starting quarterback. But, he was 18 of 46 for 216 yards as he struggled with a defense that sacked him three times and had nine hurries.
The Huskers started their first three drives at the Purdue 17, 16 and 31, but came away with only seven points.
”Collective ugliness,” Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck said, referring to his charges.
Two plays after Kieron Williams blocked Thomas Meadows’ punt, Armstrong threw a 17-yard pass to De’Mornay Pierson-El.
Pierson-El ran back Meadows’ next punt 42 yards, and the Huskers had first-and-goal at the Purdue 4 but couldn’t punch it in. Armstrong fumbled the snap on fourth down at the 1, with Abdullah getting hurt in the scrum for the ball.
The Huskers were held scoreless after getting another short field when Drew Brown pushed his 46-yard field-goal try wide right for his third straight miss.
Appleby broke a 25-yard run to pull Purdue into a 7-all tie early in the second quarter. Nebraska responded with a 65-yard march that Cross finished with a 2-yard run.
Brandon Reilly partially blocked Meadows’ next punt to set up the Huskers at midfield, and Armstrong went 29-yards to put the Huskers up 21-7. Cross scored from the 1 to make it a three-touchdown game in the third quarter.
”We’re right there,” Appleby said. ”Defense plays good and the offense comes up short. Offense plays good, defense comes up short. We’ve got to play together.”