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Minnesota at Purdue Preview

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The Gophers have won four straight against Purdue.

Minnesota v Oregon State Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

The rise and fall of Purdue football over the last 20 years or so can often be measured against Minnesota. Since 1997 the Golden Gophers have been a fairly steady program. They have been to 14 bowl games in that time, showing that they are regularly a middle tier program. Purdue has been to 12 in that time, with Minnesota currently on a 5-year bowl streak and Purdue on a 4-year bowl-less streak. The Gophers haven’t won the Big Ten since 1967, while Purdue has a single conference title in that time.

Purdue has had higher highs and lower lows, however. Joe Tiller won his first six games against the Gophers as part of a 7-game winning streak overall (Jim Colletto beat them in 1996 too). It was the longest winning streak either team has had in the series, but for the most part Tiller owned them by going 8-2 against them in his 12 years. Since Tiller retired and Purdue severely declined the Gophers have gone 5-2 against Purdue. This includes the last four games to open up a five game overall lead in the series.

Purdue and Minnesota once again look to be locked in the middle of the Big Ten together. In an interesting twist you have one final state: Purdue is 10-7 against the Gophers since Joe Tiller was hired in 1997. In each of the 10 years it beat the Gophers Purdue advanced to a bowl game. In the 7 years it lost Purdue reached a bowl only once, in 2012. This is not a make or break game for Purdue’s bowl hopes, but a victory does make a postseason trip much more likely.

Minnesota Golden Gophers

2017 Record: 3-1, 0-1

2016 Record: 9-4, 5-4

Bowl Result: Beat Washington State 17-12 in Holiday Bowl

Blog Representation: The Daily Gopher

Series with Purdue: Minnesota leads 37-32-3

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

Last Minnesota win: 44-31 at Minnesota on 11/5/2016

Head Coach: P.J. Fleck (1st year at Minnesota, 30-22 overall)

Last Season for the Golden Gophers:

Minnesota is coming off of its first loss of the season, which was its first conference game. It was a perfect 3-0 in the non-conference and looked really good defensively along the way. The Gophers gave up just 7 points in a dull 17-7 win over Buffalo in the opener. They then went to Oregon State and crushed the beavers 48-14, but Oregon State might be the worst Power 5 team in the country. They are at least in the running with Baylor, Missouri, Rutgers, and Kansas. Their best win was probably 34-3 over Middle Tennessee State a week after MTSU upset Syracuse at Syracuse.

Things were different last week against Maryland. After giving up just 24 points in three games they gave up 31 against the Terrapins. The Terps rushed for 262 yards after the Gophers had only given up 177 in the previous three games total. Maryland also shut down the running game, giving up only 80 on the ground after Minnesota had rushed for 643 in the first three games total.

So who is the real Minnesota? We’ll find out on Saturday.

Who to Watch on Offense

Shannon Brooks – RB – two years ago Brooks needed just one run to prove how bad Purdue’s run defense was. Here is an exhibit in how to NOT tackle a running back.

He finished that game with 176 yards on the ground, but missed the game against us last season. So far this year he is second on the team with 199 yards, but he has 5 TDs.

Rodney Smith – RB – Smith leads the team with 310 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Smith and Brooks provide a solid 1-2 rushing punch that has been the strength of the Gopher offense. With more than 500 total yards between them, plus another 109 from Kobe McCrary, the Gophers have the horses to establish a strong ground game.

Conor Rhoda – QB – Rhoda split time early with Demry Croft, but has seized the job for himself of late. He is not as much of a runner as Croft, but through the air he has 685 yards and 3 TDs. He has also thrown 3 interceptions, two of them coming last week against Maryland. The Terrapins held him to 50% completions and 229 yards too.

Tyler Johnson – WR – Johnson is the overwhelming No. 1 receiver on the team. He has 15 receptions for 351 yards and 2 TDs. His 23.4 yard average makes him a big play threat, and he has more than half of Minnesota’s total receiving yards as a team. Basically, if you can cover him, you shut down the Minnesota passing game. Demetrius Douglas is the only other receiver with more than 6 receptions, and he has 11 for 83 yards. Douglas is also out for the season with an injury, further limiting the passing game.

Who to Watch on Defense

Jacob Huff – DB – Huff leads a secondary that is a little short on bodies right now. They are down to 9 scholarship defensive backs and 4 of them are true freshmen. Antoine Winfield Jr. is one of their top DBs, but will likely miss the game. Huff has 14 tackles and a pair of interceptions, so more will be asked of him.

Jonathan Celestin – LB – The senior linebacker leads the Gophers with 35 tackles and 3.5 for loss. He has been active in pass defense with two breakups and he has a pair of quarterback hits. He is your typical Big Ten linebacker that can play all over the field and do a little of everything.

Antonio Shenault – DB – Minnesota’s second leading tackler, Shenault is another experienced player in a thin secondary that has a lot of freshmen in key spots. There is not much of a pass rush, either, as Minnesota has five sacks in four games so far.

Who to Watch on Special Teams

Ryan Santoso – P – Santoso leads the Big Ten in punting right now at an impressive 46.6 yards per punt. Five of his 16 punts have been downed inside the 20 and another 7 have led to a fair catch. He also handles kickoffs and regularly gets touchbacks.

Emmit Carpenter – K – Carpenter is 6 of 9 on field goal attempts this season with a long of 49, so he has plenty of leg.

Game Outlook

A big factor in this game is the suspension of both Ja’Whaun Bentley and Jacob Theineman for the first half for Purdue. Both of them have played a big role in Purdue’s vastly improved run defense, and we really need them against a run heavy team. Last season Minnesota ran for 253 yards as a team and 5 touchdowns. Smith was particularly brutal with 153 yards and 3 scores. Two years ago The Gophers ran for 326 yards and 2 scores. The run defense has been really bad against these guys, and they are definitely a run first team.

Fortunately, we now have competent leadership that will try to figure things out and make adjustments, unlike the previous regime that tried the same things over and over to spectacular failure. I think the key will be very similar to the Missouri game. Purdue needs to get some stops early and move the ball with the same efficiency that it did in Columbia. Purdue’s first three drives on both side of the ball were virtually perfect and led to a 21-0 lead after about 20 minutes.

The Gophers are not a team that plays well from behind. Purdue’s offense has been quite dynamic and with a week to rest up and prepare should have some pretty good wrinkles to show. Defensively we have to stay strong against the run. Purdue has been so much better this year against the run, but my PTSD still kicks in and expects a collapse.

Overall I am excited. This is a winnable game. If Purdue gets this one I really like our chances against Nebraska, Northwestern, and Indiana later on. We also have Illinois and Rutgers still on the schedule too, and neither of them seems interested in playing Big Ten football this season. Win this one and we can really think about a bowl game.