LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska is 8-1 for only the second time since 2001, in first place in the Big Ten West and in contention for a major bowl if not on the fringe of the College Football Playoff conversation.
Yet even though the 15th-ranked Cornhuskers have beaten the teams they were supposed to so far, coach Bo Pelini warns they must be sharper the next three games against Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa.
“To be honest with you, I don’t know if I’m ever really happy,” Pelini said after Saturday’s 35-14 win against Purdue. “I always know that there’s that much more out there for us. You have to get a little bit of a sense of being a perfectionist and knowing that you have to keep pushing if you really want to reach your potential.
“I think that’s a challenge we have over this last month.”
Nebraska has an off week before traveling to Wisconsin for a game that will have a major bearing on the West race.
— Bo Pelini
Pelini’s to-do list is long, and it starts with something as simple as making clean center-quarterback exchanges.
Mark Pelini and Ryne Reeves have been rotating at center, and both have struggled connecting with Tommy Armstrong Jr. the past two games.
Armstrong fumbled two snaps and bobbled two others against Purdue. During a six-play sequence in the third quarter, Armstrong had to jump to catch three snaps.
His first fumble — on a snap that hit him squarely in the hands — was the most costly. It came at the Purdue 1-yard line in the first quarter, and Heisman Trophy hopeful Ameer Abdullah sprained his left knee while recovering it.
Pelini said he was “optimistic” Abdullah would be able to play against Wisconsin.
The bad snaps were inexplicable to offensive coordinator Tim Beck.
“I must be an awful coach that we can’t get a quarterback-center exchange,” he deadpanned.
Beck said the Huskers have had no problems with snaps in practice.
“Why in the last 160-some snaps at home, why is it only five plays? Why isn’t it every play?” Beck said. “I don’t know. They’re kids. Who knows what they’re thinking?”
Nebraska had a season-low 297 yards against Purdue. Armstrong was 8 of 21 and threw two bad interceptions in the second half. He said a repeat of that type of performance won’t be good enough to beat any of the next three opponents, especially on the road.
“It’s going to be a tough atmosphere going to Wisconsin and going to Iowa,” he said. “Our fans did a great job [Saturday]. It’s not going to be like that at Wisconsin. It’s not going to be like that at Iowa. We’ve got to fix it.”
Armstrong, speaking softly, said he felt as if he “failed” against Purdue even though the Huskers won. Imani Cross, Abdullah’s backup who ran for 66 yards and two touchdowns, stood off to the side as Armstrong lamented his outing. Cross said Armstrong kept his poise even though he struggled.
“He continued to lead us,” Cross said. “The offensive line did a great job under fire. Purdue’s defensive linemen moved a lot, and our line did a great job handling it. The receivers did great. I think we made mistakes, but we’ll continue to get better and build off the things we did wrong.
“A win is what we got. That’s what I’m happy about.”