Purdue insisted heading into its matchup against Wisconsin on Saturday that it had put its Oct. 16 victory over No. 2 Iowa in the rearview mirror and was ready to face a new challenge.
After a 30-13 home loss to the Badgers, the Boilermakers' 15th straight defeat in the series, coach Jeff Brohm admitted his team “obviously didn't come down off the high of last week.”
With a loss to snap them back to reality, the Boilers have used this week to reset and get prepared for a difficult stretch of games.
“We just go back to the drawing board,” said defensive tackle Lawrence Johnson, a Snider graduate who had two tackles for loss against Wisconsin. “We don't let one loss turn into two, turn into three. We regroup, we get our heads on straight, we get ready for our next opponent.”
Up next is Nebraska (3-5, 1-4 Big Ten), which Purdue will face in Lincoln on Saturday. The Cornhuskers beat Purdue 37-27 in West Lafayette last season, a game they led 34-13 at one juncture. This season, Nebraska has struggled to finish games, losing four times by seven points or fewer.
“I think Nebraska has actually played really good football this year. They've been in every game,” Brohm said. “We'll have our hands full.”
That's especially true on defense, where the Boilermakers (4-3, 2-2) played well early against Wisconsin before tiring in the second half and struggling to stop the Badgers' rushing attack, which rolled up 297 yards.
The Cornhuskers run a significantly different offense than Wisconsin, substituting run-pass options and zone-read looks for Wisconsin's traditional pro-style sets.
The player that makes it all go is do-everything quarterback Adrian Martinez, who has been responsible for 20 touchdowns this season and had nearly 300 yards of total offense and three touchdowns against the Boilers in 2020.
“All the different things they do with the zone read and the power read and getting him on the edge and really his scrambling ability when plays break down is probably where he's most dangerous,” Brohm said of Martinez.
“And that's where you've got to have guys there with their eyes on him waiting for him and able to tackle him because he'll hurt you running the football. At least half of those are on pass plays that aren't open and he goes and makes a play. It'll be tough for us.
“We didn't do a good job against him last year, so we'll have to have a better plan.”
On offense, Purdue will have to block better than it did against the Badgers. The Boilermakers had just 30 rushing yards in that contest and quarterback Aidan O'Connell was sacked six times. He was also hurried into throwing three interceptions, taking chances as the pocket broke down.
Brohm said O'Connell will be the starter again this week but added the quarterback needs to make better decisions and backups Jack Plummer and Austin Burton will be ready to play.
O'Connell could use some help from wide receiver David Bell, who struggled against the Badgers as he was blanketed with multiple defenders. It's a good bet Nebraska will try the same strategy after Bell caught 10 passes for 132 yards and a touchdown against the Cornhuskers last season.
“Aidan said at the end of practice (Tuesday): 'Don't give up on the season, we're still in the race to get to the Big Ten Championship Game,'” Bell said. “We just have to keep playing hard and keep fighting and hopefully we get the wins.”
Note: Brohm is not optimistic that All-Big Ten running back Zander Horvath, who has missed the last five games with a broken leg, will be able to play Saturday.
When: 3:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Neb.
Records: Purdue (4-3, 2-2 Big Ten), Nebraska (3-5, 1-4)
Radio: 1380 AM, 100.9 FM