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2012 Purdue Football Week 9: Minnesota Golden Gophers Preview

Both Purdue and Minnesota view this as a must-win game.

Jesse Johnson-US PRESSWIRE

What was once a promising season has devolved into the dread, "will we or won't we go to a bowl game" question. At 3-4, Purdue must go 3-2 in the final five games in order to avoid being home for the bowl season for the fourth time in five years.

The good news is that even at 6-6 it seems unlikely that we're headed back to Detroit for the Pizza Bowl. That is the 8th Big Ten bowl tie-in, and the conference will be lucky to get eight teams eligible. Ohio State and Penn State are out and Indiana and Illinois soon will be, so if Purdue is to reach eligibility it will either come at the expense of a team like Iowa or Minnesota (who wouldn't be eligible) or it will be selected ahead of either of those two teams.

I do think that Purdue must beat the Golden Gophers on Saturday in order to reach the postseason. We should be an awful Illinois team and beating Indiana at home is a must even if the Hoosiers are a better team this season. The best chance for a third win comes against a team we have easily handled the last two seasons.

As stated, I will be driving up for this game in order to get TCF Bank Stadium off my list of Big Ten venues seen. This will leave me with only Nebraska and Iowa to visit, and it gives me the bonus of seeing Purdue play at Minnesota in both the Metrodome and their new stadium. Unfortunately, I have only seen Purdue actually win at three of those venues: Indiana, Illinois, and Northwestern.

2011 Record: 3-9, 2-6 Big Ten

2012 Record: 4-3

Bowl Result: None

Blog Representation: The Daily Gopher

Series with Purdue: Minnesota leads 33-32-3

Last Purdue win: 45-17 at Purdue on 10/8/11

Last Minnesota win: 35-20 at Minnesota on 10/10/09

Time & TV: 3:30pm, Big Ten Network

Line: Purdue by 3

Weather: 45 degrees and a 10% chance of rain

Both teams enter this game on a three-game losing streak and looking for a way to break it. Minnesota has scored exactly 13 points in each of the last three games, but gave up 31, 21, and 38 in loses to Iowa, Northwestern, and Wisconsin. Purdue does have an overall two-game winning streak against the Gophers, and a third victory would tie the all-time series.

Purdue is 12-3 in the last 15 games in the series though dating back to 1996. It has never won at TCF Bank Stadium, losing its only game 35-20 three years ago up there.

Minnesota Offense Vs. The Purdue Defense:

Scoring only 13 points per game in Big Ten play is not going to get it done. Minnesota needs two more wins for bowl eligibility, but their remaining schedule is Purdue, Michigan, Illinois, Nebraska, and Michigan State. The Gophers made the surprising move to go with Philip nelson at quarterback last week over MarQueis Gray and Max Shortell at quarterback.

Nelson was 13 of 24 last week with two interceptions and two touchdowns for 149 yards. His per game yardage was better than Gray's, but not as good as Shortell's. Shortell has a higher completion percentage, but only has 791 yards passing and six TDs in five games. When you combine the three quarterbacks Minnesota is only throwing for about 200 yards per game with eight interceptions and 13 TDs.

Donnell Kirkwood has been the running game, especially since Gray is now at wide receiver despite rushing for 320 yards. Kirkwood has 475 yards and three TDs, but the running quarterback has been a major weapon. Nelson is already third on the team in rushing with 67 yards last week, and he has only played in one game.

A.J. Barker is far and away the top target with 25 catches for 442 yards and five touchdowns. Isaac Fruechte, Devin Crawford-Tufts, and Drew Goodger each have 11 receptions for the second highest total. Tight End John rabe is a useful red zone weapon with nine catches for 104 yards, but three have been for touchdowns. Don't forget Gray, who is incredibly athletic and could be a major matchup advantage.

Minnesota's offensive line has given up 12 sacks and 30 tackles for loss, but it is one of the smaller lines we will face all year. Jon Christenson is listed at 6'4" 266 pounds as a starting freshman guard, so Kawann Short needs to line up and dominate him.

Purdue's defensive line play will once again be critical. Last week we did a good job of containing and frustrating Braxton Miller because the line was night and day better than the previous week. Now we're facing a true freshman QB who is making only his second career start. Ryan Russell, Bruce Gaston, and Short need to continue being dominant and get after him. Nelson is not afraid to run, but we have to contain him when he chooses to do so.

Getting a few interceptions would be nice too. Ricardo Allen pick-sixed Gray last season and Landon Feichter has been quite opportunistic on tipped passes.

Minnesota Defense Vs. The Purdue Offense:

The Golden Gophers haven't had the best of defenses in recent years, but so far this season they have been effective. The pass defense has been very good at only 154 yards per game and just four touchdowns, but this is a weaker team up front. Akeem Hunt, Akeem Shavers, and Rob Henry should have more room to run this week than last.

D.L. Wilhite and RaShede Hageman have been effective pass-rushers with a combined 9.5 sacks, so our line may have some trouble protecting Caleb TerBush, especially after the struggles they had against Wisconsin. That pass rush has also led to seven interceptions by six different players. Derrick Wells has two of those interceptions in addition to leading the team in tackles with 45.

The defense is very experienced. Wilhite, Keanon Cooper, Mike Rallis, Michael Carter, and Troy Studermire are all seniors and multi-year starters. Stoudermire and Carter as a pair of senior quarterbacks will be effective against our screens to the edge. Rallis and Studermire each have 41 tackles and Cooper has 38, so these guys are sure tacklers.

As I have been saying, getting our speed into space is critical for our offensive success. I was a big fan of the role Dolapo Macarthy played last week and his size could be a major weapon with O.J. Ross still limited with a toe injury. Playing on turf could be an asset here as we seem to be quicker on turf than on grass based on last week's game.

Special Teams vs. Special Teams:

Raheem Mostert is still out, but Akeem Hunt showed last week that there is not as much of a dropoff as we thought. Danny Anthrop is still waiting for his first opportunity to return a kick. They will have a huge advantage over a Minnesota return unit that only averages 17.5 yards on 20 returns. Barker will also handle punt returns and he does so at a 6.9 average.

Aside from the Hunt return, special teams were a disaster for us last week. Josh Johnson muffed multiple returns, but we were able to recover. Paul Griggs had two low kicks that cost us the game, while out punt protection problems have been so bad we now take at least 5-10 yards off of every punt because we have to run Cody Webster out to the edge (instead of , you know, improving protection). Even then, Webster will be better than Christian Eldred, who struggles for 38 yards per kick.

As much as we struggled on placements last week, Jordan Wettstein is only 6 of 12 on field goals this year with a long of 43. He has also missed an extra point, but we've missed five.

Game Outlook:

With a hot Penn State team coming to town next week I think this game has got to be a win. Lose this, and you're looking at being 3-6 with two road games before the end run of the season. That's not a position we can afford to be in.

Statistically, Purdue is the better team. We have a more diverse running game and more weapons in the passing game like Antavian Edison and Gary Bush. Those two have a combined 10 TDs and we have several big plays this year where Minnesota does not. Their biggest play of the season was a 75 yard run by Gray. We have multiple plays over 80 yards.

Minnesota's defense is good, but it is far from the best we have faced. Their offense has also struggled greatly in big Ten play to the point they are trusting things to a true freshman at quarterback. I really like our chances if our defensive line continues to be as dominant as it was last week.

Dream of our first Big Ten win if:

  • Kawann Short is in the backfield with impunity.
  • Landon Feichter and Josh Johnson get interceptions.
  • The Akeems combine for 150 yards rushing.
  • Caleb TerBush avoids his customary interception.
  • Ralph Bolden scores his first touchdown.

Continue sharpening pitchforks and building effigies if:

  • TerBush throws multiple picks.
  • The offensive playcalling continues to be bland.
  • Nelson looks like a senior instead of a freshman.
  • Kirkwood has a career day.
  • Purdue continues to miss opportunities like last week.