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Purdue at Minnesota: Preview

The boat might be taking on water in Minneapolis as a man already went overboard.

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Illinois Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

It has been quite a while since Purdue has been in this position. Once again, the Boilers are a double-digit favorite on the road just like they were at Illinois. We’re a win away for bowl eligibility. The last three times we played in the postseason it wasn’t clinched until a Bucket game victory over Indiana. You have to go back to 2007 for the last time we had it locked up this early. Another victory would also give us a winning record in Big Ten play for the first time since 2006 when we were 8-6 overall, but 5-3 in league play (5-4 if you count the bowl loss to Maryland as a Big Ten game).

There is also still the outside chance of winning the West Division. We need help in the form of Iowa beating Northwestern, but there is a very real shot of that. There is little question that Purdue football has positive momentum for the first time in about a decade. Part of that momentum means beating teams we should beat.

Minnesota is a team we should beat.

2018 Record: 4-5, 1-5 Big Ten West

2017 Record: 5-7, 2-7 Big Ten West

Bowl Result: None

Blog Representation: The Daily Gopher

Series with Purdue: Minnesota leads 37-33-3

Last Purdue win: 31-17 at Purdue on 10/7/2017

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

Head Coach: P.J. Fleck (9-12 in 2nd year at Minnesota. 39-34 in 6th year overall)

It has been a rough year in Big Ten play. They do have a pretty impressive 21-14 win over Fresno State thanks to a last minute stop back in week 2. That is the only game the Bulldogs have dropped this year and it may end up costing Fresno a big money bowl. After a 3-0 start, however, the boat has been taking on water. Minnesota’s defense has struggled big time in conference, getting only a 38-31 win over Indiana. They did pretty well in a 30-14 loss at Ohio State, but they gave up 53 to Nebraska, 42 to Maryland, and a whopping 55 to Illinois.

The 55 to Illinois was definitely a breaking point. It led to the firing of their defensive coordinator, but with three games left is that really going to change much? The bottom line is that the same team that Purdue held to just seven points dropped 55 on them. The Illini ran all over Minnesota last week and so did Nebraska a few weeks ago. This is not a team in a good spot right now.

Who to Watch on Offense

Overall, the Minnesota offense has not been completely terrible. There were questions at quarterback before the season, but they have been able to move the ball at times. The passing offense rates right in the middle of the Big Ten, but the running offense is much lower than I expected. They are 11th in the league in rushing, just behind Purdue.

Tanner Morgan – QB – Morgan took over at quarterback three games ago and has been okay. He threw for 302 yards and three touchdowns against Indiana on just 17 completions. Last week he had 258 yards and a pair of touchdowns in an okay day, but that was against a really, really bad defense in Illinois. His defense certainly did him no favors that day. This is still a freshman quarterback in his fourth start.

Mohamed Ibrahim – RB – Another freshman, Ibrahim has had some breakout games so far. Last week he went for 98 yards and a pair of touchdowns on Illinois. He had a huge day against Ohio State with 157 yards and two scores. On the season he has 562 yards and 5 TDs despite not having a single carry in three games.

Tyler Johnson – WR – The junior receiver has had a great season so far as one of the top targets in the Big Ten. He has 57 receptions for 875 yards and 8 touchdowns. He is a big target on the outside at 6’2” that will test Purdue’s secondary. Rashod Bateman (42-578-6) also had a big week last week with 7 receptions for 175 yards and 2 touchdowns. Both of these guys will have plenty of opportunities against our pass defense, which is rated last in the Big Ten.

Who to Watch on Defense

It’s time to talk about the Minnesota defense and, in short, it sucks. The Gophers were able to dominate Miami (OH) and New Mexico State and get a strong performance against a very good Fresno State team, but in Big Ten play they have been awful. They are giving up 188 yards per game and last week Illinois hit them for 430 yards and 5 touchdowns. By comparison, Purdue held Illinois to 69 yards rushing on the same field. The pass defense is okay at 235 yards per game, but that is worse than Iowa who got hit for big play after big play.

It is telling that Minnesota absolutely could not stop the run last week. It is no secret that Illinois a better running team than a passing team, but Minnesota seemed completely ill-prepared to stop the run. DJ Knox should have a field day unless the defense is markedly better.

Blake Cashman – LB – The senior linebacker is having a pretty solid season for the Gophers. He leads the team with 72 tackles and even has a sack to go with three pass breakups. He is excellent at getting into the backfield too with a team high 12 tackles for loss.

Carter Coughlin – LB – Coughlin has been great at coming off the edge, as he leads the Big Ten with nine sacks from his linebacker position. With Eric Swingler now playing in place of Grant Hermanns full time the Purdue offensive line will be tested.

Jacob Huff – S – Huff has been a solid contributor for years in the Gopher secondary. He has a pair of interceptions on the season and has broken up five passes.

Who to Watch on Special Teams

Minnesota suffered a major defensive and special teams loss when Antoine Winfield Jr. was lost for the season in September. He had already returned one punt for a touchdown and was the team’s top cover corner. It was his interception in the end zone in the final minute that sealed the Fresno State game.

Emmit Carpenter – K – Carpenter is pretty solid with a 10 of 13 mark on field goals. He has a big leg, too, with a long of 53 yards.

Demetrius Douglas – KR – Douglas is averaging almost 25 yards per kickoff return. He has not returned one for a touchdown yet, but he does have a return for 87 yards. Given the struggles Purdue had against Iowa on returns last week this is a concern.

Game Outlook

Just two weeks ago Purdue went to Michigan State as the hunted, but the Spartans were able to earn a 10-point win. Perhaps “hunted” is a strong term, as that game was nearly a pick ‘em, but there was definitely a sense that Purdue had a strong chance to win against a suspect defense. What we saw is that the Spartans played well and successfully shut down the Purdue offense.

This is a similar situation, only the Gopher defense overall is worse. The 55 given up to Illinois las week was stunning mostly because the Illini hadn’t shown anything like that offensively. It was also stunning because Illinois’ own defense hadn’t exactly been stout, but it did enough to win.

This is definitely a game where Purdue should be favored. How Purdue responds as the favorite will be important. It has been a long time since we have been in a position like this. We have a lot on the line too. An eight-win season, possible ranking, and better bowl game are among those things. Should Purdue win we know we’re going somewhere for the postseason. It would be nice to lock that up as a technicality this early on.