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Know thy Opponent 2016: Minnesota Golden Gophers

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The Purdue-Minnesota series is normally pretty close, but we're a long way from shootouts in the Metrodome.

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Of all the losses Purdue had last season (and there were many) the Minnesota game was among the most frustrating. The Gophers were a mediocre team last year that went 6-7 after making a bowl game as a 5-7 team. They were an opponent that Purdue absolutely should have been competitive with. For a half, they were. Minnesota only led 10-6 at halftime, but a 28 point fourth quarter turned a winnable game into a blowout.

The quarter was highlighted by a 71 yard touchdown run from Shannon Brooks which was a highlight video in how not to tackle someone. It was a ridiculously ugly collapse against a team that Purdue nearly beat the year before. It had everything you want in godawful football from Purdue: turnovers, poor tackling, inept offense, and poor decisions. The Gophers didn't even throw for 100 yards but rushed for 326 as Purdue couldn't stop the run even when they knew it was coming.

So now what? Minnesota will likely be a good, but not great team in 2016. We can say that about a lot of teams Purdue will play. They have some good pieces to build around but like just about everyone else in the West Division, they have flaws that other good teams can exploit.

Minnesota Golden Gophers

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

Bowl result: Won 21-14 over Central Michigan in the 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

Head Coach: Tracy Claeys (2-4 in 2nd year at Minnesota)

Last Season for the Golden Gophers:

Last year was a rough one for Minnesota. The biggest news is that Jerry Kill was forced into early retirement because of his seizure condition. Tracy Claeys was named the acting head coach (as he had during Kill's previous leave of absence) and closed the year by going 2-4.

The backloaded schedule ruined a promising 4-2 start, as after beating Purdue the Gophers lost to Nebraska, Michigan, Ohio State, and Iowa all in a row. The offense struggled for the most part as long as it was not playing against Purdue. It averaged only 22.5 points per game and had some pretty bad performances such as getting shut out by Northwestern and an ugly 10-7 win over Kent State. They were 3-0 against the MAC, however, including a 21-14 win over Central Michigan in the QuickLane Bowl

There is some promise for this team because a lot of the key players come back. They return a quarterback that pro scouts are drooling over and a running back that had a huge day against Purdue. With a little more production on offense there is some hope that this team could steal the West Division, but you could say that about almost everyone in the West.

Minnesota Offense

One of the hardest things I am trying to understand is the hype for Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner. I assume it is because he has beaten Purdue twice while trying to attempt the fewest passes possible in a victory without running the triple option. In 2014 he was 9 of 18 for 165 yards and two TDs. Last season he was only 8 of 12 for 59 yards and two scores. He certainly is not putting up huge numbers, but he is getting it done and he is a big, bruising runner that can get some tough yards. For his career he has thrown for 5,000 yards and 28 scores against 20 INTs. He is very efficient. He completed nearly 60% of his passes last year, but only had 14 TDs against 11 INTs. He has plenty of experience as a senior that has played a lot in his three years.

Leidner doesn't have to do a lot because he has a very strong running game around him. Brooks and Rodney Smith combined for almost 1,400 rushing yards and nine touchdowns as freshman backs last season, Brooks absolutely punished Purdue for 176 yards and a score. This is a team built to pound you with its two backs and Leidner can still run on you too with more than 1,000 yards and 23 touchdowns on the ground in his career.

Minnesota will need to replace its top receiver as KJ Moye has departed. Drew Wolitarsky (39-524-3) and Rashad Still (18-194-3) give Leidner some building blocks to throw to. Eric Carter (23-255-1) could also have a breakout season. Brandon Lingen (33-428-3) is also a very good tight end that can give Leidner yet another option.

The line is also very, very big, and that will present problems for Purdue's defensive line. Garrison Wright and Jonah Pirsig are a pair of tackles over 320 pounds each and guards Vincent Calhoun and Connor Mayes can open holes in the running game. All four are upperclassmen, too. This is a line that thoroughly dominated Purdue last season, and it paved the way for over 300 yards rushing.

Minnesota Defense

Last season Purdue gained only 275 yards, 75 of which came on the game's opening drive that gave the Boilers a 6-0 lead. Another 75 came on a fourth quarter drive where Purdue already trailed 41-6. That's 150 yards on two drives, one of which came against backups. Another 57 yards came on Purdue's final drive in the fourth quarter with the game well in hand. In the other 11 drives Purdue gained 68 yards. John Shoop's genius led to a single first down and 22 yards in the five possessions after the opening score, and it only trailed 10-6 after all that. The Gophers made some plays, but considering we saw a lot of similar efforts from Purdue's offense last year I am more willing to say that Purdue Shooped itself.

Minnesota gave up 166 yards per game on the ground and another 180 through the air. Those are respectable numbers, but they are not a brick wall. Teams can move on them and score points (as long as you're not named Purdue). One player that had a big day, Jalen Myrick,  is back as one of the best corners in the conference. He picked off David Blough twice in the game and returned one for a touchdown. Projected starter Ace Rogers should also return to the secondary after tearing his ACL in the Purdue game. The rest of the secondary has some questions as to who will start, but Rogers and Myrick are two good pieces to have.

At linebacker Jack Lynn and Cody Poock return after combining for 175 tackles between the two of them. Lynn was also active in the backfield with 11 tackles for loss. They will be joined by Jonathan Celestin who played extensively last season as well. Overall, this is a good group that can keep the Gophers in some games.

Last season the gophers did not have a great pass rush, but it was effective. No player had more than four sacks, and Gaelin Elmore is the top defensive end that returns with only 1.5 sacks last season. Scott Ekpe and Hendrick Ekpe, a pair of brothers, are also expected to start along the defensive line. They will need to shore up a defense that struggled against the run at times last season.

Minnesota Special Teams

The scourge of Purdue, Ryan Santoso, is still around. Santoso hit the 50 yard field goal two years ago in Minneapolis that led to Minnesota's 1 point win. He is an excellent kicker, going 17 of 21 last year with a long of 50 yards. He may also handle the punting duties with the loss of Peter Mortell.

In the return game KiAnte Hardin handles punts at a 6.8 yard average while Jalen Myrick has done well in his career returning kickoffs. Both may split duties on kickoffs.

Game Outlook

We know the Gophers are going to run the ball. That's all they have really done against Purdue for the last two seasons and with guys like Brooks and Smith in the backfield they have no reason to not keep doing it. Purdue was pathetic at stopping Brooks last season, so that is something they will have to turn around.

Minnesota is going to be like a lot of other teams Purdue faces: they should be pretty good, but not great. In most years that makes for a competitive game. We saw what happened last year when a good, but not great team plays Purdue. Things get out of hand quickly when the offense does virtually nothing for several drives then the defense completely collapses.

Also, like those games, this one depends on what Terry Malone can do with the offense. I am cautiously optimistic it will be better, but we all know the truth. It is not exactly hard to get much worse than the Shoopfense.

Way Too Early Prediction

Purdue will be better, but there are still too many questions and we all know what happens when strong running teams face Purdue: the Boilers get run over. Minnesota 27, Purdue 20