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Minnesota 39, Purdue 38: Another Stomach Punch Loss

Today felt like the Purdue football of old, but that is probably a step forward overall.

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Boiled Sports had the best summation of today's game:

Isn't that the way things felt even with an 11 point lead at the half? I admit that after Raheem Mostert's 69-yard run set up the short TD plunge by Austin Appleby, putting us back in front by 9, the thought of a collapse still was in my head. We're Purdue. That's what happens. Be it in football or basketball, the threat of leading for most of the contest only to lose it at the very end seems ingrained in our entire athletic department. Shoot, it happened last night against Penn State in volleyball even with a 2-1 lead and a chance to take full control in the Big Ten race.

Naturally, it happened again today. Purdue had the ball, up nine, with 4:22 left in the third quarter and a great chance with the ball at its own 40 to really put the pressure on with another score. The Boilers went three and out, Minnesota scored on a KJ Maye pass off of playaction, and Purdue was up only two.

After going ahead 38-29 here were Purdue's drives:

3 plays, -3 yards

3 plays, 9 yards

8 plays, 47 yards (ended on Appleby's fumble on fourth down)

6 plays, 11 yards (Appleby's interception)

Yes, Purdue once again played a good team close. Minnesota is predictable on offense. They either run with David Cobb, run a zone read with Mitch Leidner, or they run playaction. They do all three of these things extremely well, however. Today it was enough, but just barely.

In a game this close only a play or two is often the difference. Here were the difference-maker plays:

Cedric Thompson intercepts Appleby on the first play from scrimmage - Purdue took the ball and Appleby was hit looking deep on the first play. This set up a TD to Cobb and the Boilers were down 7-0 less than 30 seconds in. Purdue would get a turnover back in the same area, but only got three points off of it. Combined with the two missed extra points Purdue was able to get 5 of the 7 points back, but those two points were the difference on the scoreboard.

Maxx Williams converts a 3rd and 11 on Minnesota's first true drive - This was an underneath screen and Williams got it just barely. If Purdue gets a stop on third and long, it keeps four points off the board as Minnesota eventually scores a TD, but would have had to settle for a field goal.

Danny Anthrop drops a pass inside the five - After Purdue took a 21-20 lead on a TD run by Mostert Ja'Whaun Bentley recovered a Cobb fumble at the Minnesota 13. This was close to the same area where Purdue's earlier turnover put the Golden Gophers in position for a score. Anthrop had the first down with the catch, but was hit. The play was reviewed to see if it was a catch and a fumble or an incompletion and it was ruled incomplete. There was also the question of a targeting penalty on the Minnesota defender, but it was not given. In the end, Purdue settled for three, but a TD here would have been huge, especially after Purdue finally got a stop and scored again before half.

The alleged blocked punt - I cannot remember if it was the first or second punt by Thomas Meadows, but I think it was the first. It came with about 11 minutes to go in the third quarter and allegedly a Minnesota defender got a tip on the ball before leveling Meadows. By rule, if the ball is it first it is not roughing the kicker. Well, on the replay the defender never got the ball, as a tipped punt doesn't got 47 yards without a single wobble, as happened here. A roughing call gives Purdue a first down and keeps a drive. Minnesota would score a field goal on the following drive. I don't know if the call makes a difference, as Purdue easily could have had to punt again soon, but it was still a bad call that should have extended the drive.

4th and 1 from the Minnesota 30 - This play wasn't discussed a lot in the end game, but it was a big one. With about 8:30 left Purdue faced 4th and 1 from the Minnesota 30 yard line. From here it is a 47 yard field goal for Paul Griggs. It is not an impossible kick, but a tricky one on the road in the cold. It is a tough decision because a missed field goal amps the crowd, a stopped conversion also amps the crowd, but a made field goal at least makes it so that a touchdown is needed to win and not a field goal. Purdue goes for it and Appleby converts, if only Demarius Travis doesn't hit him at the perfect angle to force a fumble. Appleby recovers, but he is short.

This is a really tough call because we don't know if Griggs makes the kick if we try it. He is more than capable of hitting it because he has a career long of 52 and hit a game-winner from 47 at Iowa two years ago, but it isn't automatic. It comes down to a decision: Do you trust the offense to get a single yard to keep a scoring drive alive or your kicker, who has been solid this year, to make a tough field goal.

In the end, it was a good call. Appleby converts if he doesn't fumble, but Travis made a big play.

The Taylor Richards Penalty - This, in my mind, was the biggest play. The offense had struggled in the second half aside from Mostert's big run, but with about 6-7 minutes left Leidner overthrew his receiver on 3rd and 5. It looked like Purdue had gotten a critical stop and would have a chance to kill some clock with a two-point lead and a ground game that was working well to that point. Maybe Keyante Green comes in for some hard yards in the middle. Maybe Akeem Hunt or Mostert breaks another big play. Regardless, Purdue was getting the ball back where a couple of first downs make it really tough for Minnesota to win, and the gophers would punt from their 35 after a three and out.

But across the field, 40 yards away from the play, Richards shoves a guy to the ground for no reason. It wasn't a hard hit. The Minnesota player embellished it. Still, it was far from the play and completely unnecessary, so it was ridiculously stupid. The penalty was not called because of the force of the hit, but because Richards shoved the guy at all. Minnesota got 15 free yards and a first down. Their drive got to continue, and it ended in the game-winning 52-yard field goal by Ryan Santoso.

As the commentators said, kicking into that end of the field was rough all day and Santoso only had a long of 48, but it was a bit of a calculated risk on the play. The boilers put forth very little rush as they expected a fake. Santoso made an excellent kick. This is why I can't fault Purdue going safe to prepare for the fake. They basically said, "Okay kid, make a career long," and Santoso did it.

Pretty much everything that happened after the Santoso kick was in the flow of the game. The final interception was a hell of a play by Thompson, but Purdue had a chance to recover from everything above and get in field goal range for the win. It did not.

While it is encouraging to play a good team like Minnesota close in their home stadium, it is not a win. In consecutive weeks now we have played the teams that might play in Indianapolis for the Big Ten title and taken them down to the end. There is no question this program has moved forward, but the key is not being complacent. A year ago at this time we celebrated a 14-0 loss to Michigan State. Today we lost by a point to Minnesota. Both sucked, but today was a sign that Purdue has moved forward.

There is no question that we're far, far better than we were at any point last year, but it means exactly dick if we don't figure out a way to win games like this. Today sucked. I felt like I was kicked in the stomach and it was Purdue football of old. After some thought, I realized that it was tremendous progress just to get to this point. I mean, a team was celebrating wildly today that they barely out-lasted PURDUE on their home field. That was laughable a year ago. But now we need to win a game like this. That is the next step for this program. We have shown in four Big Ten games that we can be competitive with the best in the conference. Now it is time to find a way to win.

Can we take that next step this season? Well, if we can, it can still mean a bowl game. Find a way to win one of the next two games (difficult, but not impossible) and we absolutely can still go to a bowl game this year because Northwestern is offensively challenged and Indiana is back to being Indiana. At the very least winning the last two games should be a goal. Find a way to be competitive against Nebraska (struggling against Northwestern right now) or Wisconsin (struggling offensively overall) and a shocking bowl game is still possible.

At the very least, coach Hazell has made me not give up on a bowl game until the lost possible moment. As it stands right now, the earliest it can happen is when the clock hits 0:00 against Wisconsin in a few weeks.