We've been here before. An October win over a ranked team (which came after a disappointing loss to a MAC team) is followed by a game at home against a conference bottom feeder. Last year, it was a 1-5 Illinois team coming in whose only win was over a 1-AA team. This year, it is another 1-5 team that is waiting to be put out of its misery. Minnesota can't even boast of a win over a 1-AA team. If not for Dwight Dasher accepting a loan and a 30-minute edge in time of possession Minnesota would probably be winless.
Things are bad in Minneapolis. The shine on TCF Bank Stadium is gone, and Tim Brewster is essentially a dead coach walking. My colleagues over at the Daily Gopher, in response to asking if they needed anything from me this week, responded with, "Is it basketball season yet?" We're going to hold off on that one for now since The Barn's elevated court is an evil, soulless place that needs to be razed and burned after it made Robbie Hummel's knee go kablooey. The University of Minnesota owes us a Final Four appearance for that, but for now we're going to have to take our first payment of vengeance by kicking their football team while it is down.
2009 Record: 6-7, 3-5 Big Ten
Bowl Result: lost Insight Bowl 14-13 to Iowa State
Series with Purdue: Minnesota leads 33-30-3
Last Purdue win: 45-31 at Minnesota on 9/22/07
Last Minnesota win: 35-20 at Minnesota on 10/10/09
It is hard to believe we have dropped two in a row to pretty underwhelming Minnesota teams, but it is true. Last year's loss was mistake-plagued in Minneapolis as we blew an early lead, had several turnovers, and even allowed a blocked field goal for a touchdown. Two years ago Curtis Painter got hurt and Justin Siller could not move the offense in a loss in West Lafayette. Minnesota literally made two plays that day, but they both set up touchdowns in a 17-6 win.
This year the offense hasn't been bad. Adam Weber is playing the recipient of the Curtis Painter Memorial Award for Longtime Quarterbacks Who Accomplished Nothing in the Big Ten, Yet Still Put Up Big Numbers and Started For Years (That's the CPMALQWANBTYSPUBNSFY Award) Weber literally has a metric assload of passing records at Minnesota, but he may be looking at the second 1-11 season of his tenure as starter. Over his career he is 806 of 1397 for 9,686 yards, 64 touchdowns, and 46 interceptions. Few Big Ten passers have reached the 10,000 yard plateau, but even without serviceable receivers for most of his career Weber should get there, maybe even this week.
Most of this has not been his fault. After declining numbers for three straight seasons he is actually playing some of the best football of his career. He has 12 TD passes this year against just four picks and his completion percentage is around 60%. Even without Eric Decker, he has gotten better this year and will find himself at least in an NFL camp next summer.
MarQueis Gray from Indianapolis has gone from quarterback heir-apparent to top receiver this year. He has 26 receptions for 349 yards and four scores. At 6'4" he is a big target that could cause trouble for us. Eric Lair (21-328-2) and Da'Jon McKnight (22-316-5) have also been very good receivers. Each receiver has about half of what we have been able to produce through the air through five games.
A big factor in last year's game was that we were awful against the run. To make matters worse, Minnesota ran on no one else except us. Duane Bennett (402 yards, 2 TD's) and DeLeon Eskridge (312-2) provide a nice balance on the ground for them, while Jon Hoese is a great shirt yardage fullback with three touchdowns. Bennett also has a touchdown pass on a trick play.
The offensive line has given Weber time to throw and the backs room to run. Minnesota has surrendered on seven sacks. They are helping the Golden Gophers score points. Minnesota has scored at least 21 points in every game, but they have only been above 30 once (against South Dakota). That means the equation seems to be simple: We need to score at least 30.
First thing: Fire Defensive Coordinator Kevin Cosgrove. Throw him overboard. Like right now.
This defense stinks. Like a used diaper full of indian food. From opening week to yesterday, they're not getting better, they're getting worse. The defense allowed Wisconsin to run for 245 at 5 yards per carry, QB Scott Tolzien to complete 73% of his passes for 223, and pick up 30 first downs. 30. Seriously. The most damning stat of all though (well, other than forcing zero turnovers or zero sacks)? The Badgers converted 7 of 9 third downs. SEVEN OF NINE! I don't know what's worse- that they allowed them to convert that many, or that they only faced nine third downs all day? Before the 4th quarter, Wisky only had six third downs. 1st half they were 1-3, converting on 3rd and 2, but threw 2 incompletions on 3rd and 6 and 3rd and 8. 3rd quarter Tolzien converted on 3rd and 7, then the Gophs bailed them out with a 10 yd defensive holding. -- The Daily Gopher
Yeesh! That's a pretty bad indictment, but considering how bad our third down defense has been in every game except against Northwestern, this could be a shocking comedy of errors.
If there is a game where we are going to see a dramatic improvement in the passing of Rob Henry, this is it. Talking about the Minnesota pass rush would imply it had one. They have three sacks on the season. D.L. Wilhite and Jewhan Edwards are the only starters with sacks, so Henry should have plenty of time to throw if he stays in the pocket. Minnesota is averaging 221 yards passing given up per game, but the defensive line has been abysmal against the run.
Somehow, we're getting it done on the ground. There will be more of it this week> Minnesota is terrible against the run, giving up almost 200 yards per game. They have given up 15 touchdowns on the ground and 5.7 yards per rush. Keith Carlos has looked good in the few carries he has had, and a healthy Dan Dierking and Al-Terek McBurse can take some of the pressure off of Henry. Northern Illinois ran all over them worse than they did against us last year.
Gary Tinsley leads the defense with 46 tackles, but there is little that stands out for this group. Remember, they have only held one team (Middle Tennessee State) under 29 points. The Blue Raiders only had the ball for 15 minutes and they were missing their quarterback, who was the preseason Player of the Year in that conference. If Oregon has the point a minute offense, Minnesota's defense gives up almost a point for every minute it is on the field.
In the secondary Mike Rallis and Michael Carter each have a pair of interceptions, but as a team the Gophers have just six picks. Of course, we only have two. They have only four fumble recoveries as a team. As long as we are not careless with the football like last year we should be able to see the offense get on track. Then again, Toledo had a poor pass defense and look what happened.
Minnesota Special Teams:
Dan Orseske is averaging a dismal 37.4 yards per punt, so he is not giving the defense much hel in terms of field position. Minnesota is also giving up 13.5 yards per punt return, so we might even be able to get a return of more than five yards for once. Brandon Green has only four punt returns for just over nine yards per return for the Gophers.
Eric Ellestad is an average kicker, hitting on 6 of 10 field goals with a long of 42. He is also okay on kickoffs, but Troy Stoudermire will be dangerous on returns. He averages 24.4 yards per return, and has a long of 47. Minnesota has given up a 97 yard kickoff return, so for once our coverage may not be the worst.
Like last year's game against Illinois, losing this week would feel like a huge step back. We're playing at home, on homecoming, and honoring the 2000 Rose Bowl team. This absolutely has to be a win. A victory would also put us at 4-2, which was the worst case scenario for the midpoint of the season when it started. Therefore, given the injuries in everything, I think could even judge it as a minor miracle. We can then play the second half of the season knowing we need just two wins for a bowl game and improvement over last year. Since I still expect to beat Indiana at home, that would mean just one game needs to be an upset of some degree.
In the ultimate dream category, a victory coupled with wins by Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan would put Purdue atop the Big Ten alone and in control of our destiny for the Rose Bowl. How would that be for a turnaround. While I wouldn't exactly make reservations for Pasadena yet (beat Minnesota and upset Ohio State again and we'll talk) it would be a nice thing to talk about for a week.
Everyone has been able to score points on Minnesota, so I expect to see growth from the offense this week. O.J. Ross, Gary Bush, Cortez Smith, and Antavian Edison need to help out Henry by getting open and cutting down on drops. On defense we need Ryan Kerrigan to be the disruptive force that he is and for Kawann Short to keep the interior of the line solid. As long as we stop the run and cut back on third down conversion we should be fine. Minnesota is 34 of 84 on offense on third down, but they have given up 31 of 61 on defense. Skewing those numbers out even further would definitely result in a Purdue victory.