I feel inspired this morning to rob a bank. It has nothing to do with me watching Point Break as I work on this preview, I promise. We are playing at TCF Bank Stadium though, so we need Joey Elliott to be our fearless Bodhi to steal a win here.
I'm doing things a little backward this week. Wednesday is normally podcast day, but I haven't heard back from the guys over at The Daily Gopher yet. I'll also be busy tonight at my normal podcast time, as I have tickets to see Katie Douglas do Purdue some good by winning a WNBA championship for the Indiana Fever. Yes, my addiction to basketball does run that deep.
In the mean time, there is still some football to talk about. It has been over two years since Purdue won a football game away from Ross-Ade Stadium. As it happens, we are facing the team we beat in our last road contest this weekend. Facing the Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium will be a little different from facing them in the Metrodome, but with a 1-2 record in the new gopher hole, Minnesota hasn't exactly shown that no one can crack this safe.
2008 Record: 7-6 (3-5 Big Ten)
2009 Record: 3-2 (1-1)
Bowl result: Lost to Kansas 42-21 in Insight Bowl
Series with Purdue: Minnesota leads 32-30-3
Last Purdue win: 9/22/07 at Minnesota 45-31
Last Minnesota win: 10/25/08 at Purdue 17-6
This is the last time we came home happy away from Ross-Ade
This year so far for the Gophers:
Minnesota is a team that has played better on the road than at home so far. They managed an overtime win at Syracuse (who is certainly not as bad as previously thought) and they won convincingly at Northwestern. At home, Minnesota barely squeezed by Air Force in the TCF Bank Stadium opener. Minnesota is the last team to give up a touchdown to a suddenly moribund Cal team, while Wisconsin did what Wisconsin does in the rivalry for Paul Bunyan's Axe: they won a close game.
Minnesota has been totally average of late. They have won the games they should have won, and lost the ones they probably should have lost. That is what gives me a little hope that we can finally stop this losing streak. Minnesota is a team that is hardly overwhelming. The same is true for almost everyone in the Big Ten, so who knows what can happen.
The Gophers wanted to go back to being more of a running team when the season started, but through five games they have not had a lot of success in that department. This game should be a measuring stick for just how bad our run defense really is. As a team, Minnesota is averaging less than 100 yards per game on the ground. Duane Bennett (230 yards, 5 TD's) and DeLeon Eskridge (165 yards, 1 TD) have carried the ball the most. Most of Bennett's work came in an 89 yard, three score game at Northwestern two weeks ago. Eskridge had 14 carries for 60 yards against Wisconsin last week, which was by far his best week. We also need to keep an eye on Indianapolis' own MarQueis Gray. Gray is pretty much Minnesota's quarterback of the future. He steps in for a few snaps per game for Adam Weber. He has rushed nine times for 54 yards, but has yet to throw a pass. That does not mean he is not a passing threat, however.
Weber is one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the Big Ten. He took his lumps as a freshman during Minnesota's 1-11 2007 season, but he has matured into a solid signal caller. His rushing numbers are down this year, but he has been known as a runner in the past. So far he is 91 of 159 passing for 1,150 yards, six touchdowns, and six interceptions. Only Joey Elliott and Ricky Stanzi have thrown more picks than Weber. Weber has yet to put up huge numbers in a game this year, but you can count on him to throw for about 225 yards.
A main reason Weber has been able to throw for so many yards is Eric Decker. Decker is far and away Minnesota's best receiver. We actually did a pretty good job against him last year in a similar position, but everyone knows that he will be Weber's top target. We have to double team him and make someone else beat us. Decker's stats (43-639-5) represent more than half of Minnesota's passing game. Decker also has a seven yard touchdown pass to his credit. Troy Stoudermire (13-121-1), Brandon Green (10-130-0) and Nick Tow-Arnett (11-166-0) are other decent targets, but we must treat Decker as the first option on every pass play. So much so, even CFN had something to say about it today:
A little note for Purdue this week and the rest of the Big Ten. Minnesota QB Adam Weber is tipping his pitches. If I'm seeing this then I'm sure a highly-paid Big Ten defensive coordinator must notice the same thing. When a pass play is supposed to go to the left side, Weber dips his left shoulder when he's under center and has a severe body lean to the left when he's in the shotgun. When the play calls for the pass to go to star WR Eric Decker on the left side, Weber might as well be turned 90-degrees. -- CFN's Cavalcade of Whimsy
Our defensive line played a pretty good ballgame last week and they should be able to do the same against a good, but not great Minnesota offensive line. The Gopher O-line has given up 12 sacks on the year, and that is with Weber being a fairly mobile quarterback. Jeff Wills at 6'7" 375 is a massive tackle protecting Weber. Matt Stommes, Chris Bunders, Matt Carufel, and Jeff Tow-Arnett make up the rest of the line. Other than Wills, it is a relatively small line by Big Ten standards, so our defense should be able to make some headway.
This is the key matchup of the game. As long as we are not giving Minnesota defense the ball like we did last week things should be fine. As bad as our run defense has been, Minnesota's has been worse. The fact they have faced possibly the nation's best running back in Jahvid Best may have something to do with that, as does Air Force's and Wisconsin's run-heavy attack. Minnesota is giving up nearly 175 yards per game on the ground. Though Ralph Bolden is not 100%, we have to exploit this with Jaycen Taylor, Dan Dierking, Frank Halliburton, or even Al-Terek McBurse. Boilerdowd made some salient points this morning about us needing more rotation in the running game. I know McBurse and Halliburton have yet to see the field, but this may be the week.
The Minnesota pass defense hasn't been that great either. They have generated 10 sacks, led by Eric Small with three, but they are still giving up over 200 yards per game through the air. Minnesota only has three team interceptions as well. Nate Triplett has two of those interceptions, so Elliott should be able to find some different receivers. The Gophers do have plenty of tackles for loss with 28 as a team. Lee Campbell, who is second on the team in tackles with 53, leads the team with five tackles for loss. Triplett leads the team in tackles with 56.
We have to run the ball this week until Minnesota proves it can stop us. This will help us with the time of possession that we keep losing as well as keep our defense more fresh. Our offensive line has to generate more of a push so we can run the ball as well. It is incredibly frustrating that we haven't been able to run the ball against teams we should have little trouble running against. Minnesota is like Northern Illinois in that regard. They haven't proven they could stop the run even when they know it is coming in all three losses.
Minnesota Special Teams:
Minnesota has already had to punt a whopping 23 times in five games. This is a testament to their offensive struggles. They use a dual-punter system as well. Dan Orseske has nine punts for a 44.6 yard average, while Blake Haudan has 14 for 41.6. They have combined to limit teams to just 3.4 yards per return. Minnesota's own punt return game is pretty stout. They have only returned three punts, but Marcus Sherels and Bryant Allen are averaging a combined 19 yards per return.
On kickoff returns Stoudermire is averaging 28.2 yards per return. Minnesota is also limiting teams to just 21 yards per return on kickoffs. We will need to have more discipline because Stoudermire is a threat to break one.
Finally, Eric Ellestad has been a solid kicker. He has not missed an extra point while connecting on seven of eight field goals. Range could be an issue, as he has missed his only attempt beyond 40 yards.
First of all, it is Minnesota's homecoming. We should get used to this, as it is not a surprise that we will be the scheduled homecoming opponent for some time. It will be interesting to see what kind of atmosphere homecoming is for Minnesota in the first on-campus event since the early 80's.
Second, Minnesota does not want to lose a game to a team it feels it should beat. We fill that role perfectly right now. Yes, we have been more competitive than expected, but Minnesota has to be thinking what I am thinking. Until we actually finish a game and beat someone we won't believe it can happen.
Finally, this is a game we should have won last year. Of all our losses, I think this was the worst one. Curtis Painter got hurt and we essentially had zero preparation for Justin Siller in case that happened. Minnesota hit on two big plays that set up their two touchdowns, but did little else the rest of the day. I think that if Painter had not gotten hurt we would have won and it could have salvaged the season a little. A healthy Painter gives us a win there and a possible win with better offensive play at Michigan State two weeks later.
Keys for Purdue:
I might as well start typing the same things here every week, but it is true.
- Run the ball until they prove they can stop us
- Hold on to the football
- Don't even bother fielding punts. As soon as they kick it, I want all 11 guys to run off the field.
- Cover Eric Decker