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Purdue at Minnesota Preview

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Last season Minnesota ran all over Purdue, so expect more of the same.

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Purdue Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Is this game the best chance for Purdue to grab a win before the end of the season? I think we can officially rule out a bowl game (though we’ll talk about it if Purdue somehow wins the next two), but getting one more victory would be a positive sign going into a very important offseason with a new coach. Earning said win will require a complete game as opposed to the half games we have played the last two weeks.

There is definitely a chance there with the Gophers. Minnesota is 6-2, but they have struggled against bad teams in Oregon State and Rutgers. They did beat up on Maryland, however, and took Penn State to overtime. This is a team that is good, but has been inconsistent. That at least gives Purdue a small opportunity to win.

2015 Record: 6-7, 2-6 Big Ten

Bowl result: Beat Central Michigan 21-14 in QuickLane Bowl

Blog Representation: The Daily Gopher

Series with Purdue: Minnesota leads 36-32-3

Last Purdue win: 10/8/2011 at Purdue 45-17

Last Minnesota win: 10/10/2015 at Purdue 41-13

Minnesota Thus Far:

The overall 6-2 record is a good one. With it, there have been some hiccups though. The season opener was a close 30-23 win over Oregon State, who is currently 2-6. They also had a tight 31-24 win over Colorado State. Back-to-back losses to Penn State (29-26 in overtime) and Iowa (14-7) showed this team can play with anyone, but then there was the Maryland-Rutgers duo. The Gophers beat Maryland handily 31-10, then needed a last second field goal to beat Rutgers 34-32. Minnesota followed that up with a comfortable 40-17 win at Illinois. It can be argued that Minnesota played far better in the two losses than it did in wins over Oregon State and Rutgers.

Part of Minnesota’s struggles have come off the field. Currently, five players have a restraining order against them that ban them from physically being at TCF Bank Stadium. They are facing an evidentiary hearing tomorrow morning that will decide if they can play against Purdue. One such player is starting cornerback KiAnte Hardin, so they could be missing a key player. No. 2 receiver Brian Smith was also dismissed from the team this week.

Who to Watch on Offense

Rodney Smith – RB – Purdue just dealt with one excellent running back in Saquon Barkley. Now it gets a pair of them in Smith and Shannon Brooks. Smith has already rushed for 801 yards and 10 TDs this season. If Purdue’s run defense continues to struggle he can easily top 1,000 yards for the season this week. Last year he had 52 yards against Purdue, but it was Brooks who really punished the Boilers. This season Brooks has 472 yards and 5 TDs, but against Purdue he had 176 yards and a score.

Drew Wolitarsky – WR – Purdue’s game plan to stop Minnesota should be simple. Minnesota has one real receiver in Wolitarsky. He has 40 receptions for 514 yards and 3 TDs. The next highest receiver is running back Rodney Smith. Purdue need to cover Wolitarsky and sell out against the run. Wolitarsky is their only real receiving threat.

Mitch Leidner – QB – In seven games this season Leidner has only thrown for more than 200 yards twice. Part of that has been because the running game is so strong. The other part is that Leidner is very inconsistent with his throws. He has only 1,274 yards and 5 TDs to go with 5 INTs. He is still a threat to run on the read option, however, with 177 yards and 5 TDs.

Who to Watch on Defense

Damarius Travis – DB – Travis leads the team with 52 tackles and two interceptions. He is part of an opportunistic defense that has forced 18 turnovers this season. It is also strong against the run giving up only 130 yards per game on the ground.

Jalen Myrick – DB – Myrick is also very effective in the secondary. He has broken up four passes and has 25 tackles.

Hendrick Ekpe – DL – Ekpe and linemate Steven Richardson each have three sacks to lead a defensive line that has 19 sacks on the season. They are also very good against the run. Given Purdue’s recent struggles to get a ground game going and the injuries at the position I would be surprised if Purdue top 100 yards on the day.

Who to Watch on Special Teams

Emmit Carpenter – K – Carpenter has been one of the most consistent kickers in the Big Ten. He has hit on 13 of 15 field goals with a long of 46. J.D. Dellinger had a career long 42 yard field goal against Penn state, but later missed a critical 39-yarder.

Jalen Myrick – KR, PR – Myrick is a very dangerous return man averaging 5.9 yards per return on punts and 22.5 on kickoffs. He also has a kickoff return for a score in his career.

Game Outlook

What is it every week for Purdue? It has to stop the run and figure out a way to establish more of a running game. The last two weeks the Purdue passing game has been solid, but teams have adjusted in the second half and virtually shut it down. Purdue also has not been able to run the ball at all. I think David Blough will have some success moving the football, but with Richie Worship likely out and both Markell Jones and Brian Lankford-Johnson a bit banged up the ground game will suffer. Will we see more Tario Fuller? David Yancey? Has someone found Keyante Green?

Defensively, it is a simple proposition but difficult execution situation: If you stop the run you stop Minnesota. The running game is one of the strongest we will see all season and Purdue has been woefully inept against the run. It did well for a half against Penn State, then predictably got run over. There is no reason to fear Purdue until it can at least slow down another team’s ground game for four quarters. I expect Minnesota to run until either Purdue gives them a reason to throw or their backs merely get tired.