I know it is only the fourth game of the season, but this feels like an absolutely critical game for Purdue. Injuries and inexperience cost us the TCU game and Nevada, which was expected to be a win by all parties, was a collapse. At 1-2 Purdue needs wins now, not later, if it is going to reach the postseason. We now get a Minnesota team that is good at 3-0, but has had a close call in all three games. Two years ago a comeback win over the Golden Gophers was the difference between a bowl and no bowl in Brohm’s first season.
Of course, last season left a bad taste in all of our mouths. It was the worst regular season outing of the year and Minnesota rolled without doing much more than running the ball and limiting our own offense. Given that and Purdue’s current injury issues there is a good reason the Gophers are a 1 point favorite in Ross-Ade. If Elijah Sindelar is still out I would favor them even more.
At this point we know what Purdue is. We have a dynamic passing offense if Sindelar can play, but no running game. The defense can hold up for about three quarters, but tends to fade late due to a lack of depth and inexperience. If things are working Purdue can still beat teams and have a successful season, but the margin for error is small. It also grows smaller depending on who is out with so much inexperience all over the field.
I think Purdue absolutely needs this game if it is to go bowling. Falling to 1-3 and then probably 1-4 after going to Penn State is an untenable situation. Beating the Gophers, and then Maryland in two weeks is critical to any postseason hopes for this team. Fortunately, the Gophers are beatable.
2018 Record: 7-6, 3-6 Big Ten West
Bowl Result: Beat Georgia Tech 34-10 in QuickLane Bowl
Blog Representation: The Daily Gopher
Series with Purdue: Minnesota leads 38-33-3
Last Purdue win: 31-17 at Purdue on 10/7/2017
Last Minnesota win: 41-10 at Minnesota on 11/10/2018
Head Coach: PJ Fleck (15-13 in 3rd season at Minnesota, 45-35 overall)
2019 so far for Minnesota
It hasn’t been pretty, but 3-0 is 3-0 for the Gophers. In the opener against South Dakota State the jackrabbits had a touchdown on a kickoff return called back on a very weak penalty, otherwise they would have been leading 28-20 deep into the fourth quarter. At Fresno State the Gophers got a nice road win in double overtime thanks to an interception by Antoine Winfield Jr. This was after they tied it on a TD with less than a minute left. Against Georgia Southern the offense struggled, but found just enough to win on a TD with 13 seconds remaining.
Basically, they are the anti-Purdue in the fourth quarter. We have seen Brohm teams blow fourth quarter leads in losses to Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Nevada each of the last three seasons and nearly blow it last year against Iowa. There were also the late drives given up to Missouri and Eastern Michigan last year. Minnesota, on the other hand, has made comebacks to win all three games even while not playing that well.
Who to Watch on Offense
Shannon Brooks – RB – Brooks has yet to play this season, but he is expected to make his debut on Saturday. He only played in one game last season, but in his career against Purdue he has been dominant. In 2017 he rushed for 116 yards in a loss. That was after going for 176 yards and a touchdown as a true freshman in 2015. Both games were at Ross-Ade Stadium and they represent two of his career four 100 yard rushing games. He is part of a three-headed running game with Rodney Smith and Mohamed Ibrahim that, quite honestly, Purdue is going to struggle to stop.
Rashod Bateman – WR – Along with Tyler Johnson the Gophers have two extremely talented receivers. They have combined for 32 receptions, 528 yards, and 5 TDs so far. They give the Gophers great offensive balance. Johnson was virtually unstoppable against Georgia Southern with 140 yards on 10 receptions and 3 touchdowns. Bateman was over 100 yards in the first two games of the season.
Tanner Morgan – QB – The offensive line has been a bit feast or famine for the Gophers. Morgan has been sacked 11 times in three games, but he also has 699 yards passing and six touchdowns while completing two thirds of his passes. The skill players are definitely there, especially with Brooks back. If the line can protect Brooks he has two great targets to throw to. If the line can open holes the backs are more than capable of taking advantage. The Gopher offense tends to have long droughts of productivity, however. They had just 14 points through three quarters at Fresno. They needed 14 fourth quarter points to come back on Georgia Southern. Purdue is going to need to score early on them, because this offense has too many weapons to count out.
Who to Watch on Defense
Jordan Howden – DB – Howden leads the team with 17 tackles and 4 pass breakups. He has been solid at patrolling the middle of the field as a safety, and teams are passing for less than 200 yards per game against them. That is taken with a caveat, however. Georgia Southern is a triple option team that threw the ball only nine times. Jorge Reyna of South Dakota State was able to throw for 288 yards, so what can Sindelar do?
Antoine Winfield Jr. – DB – The 4th year player has been through a lot in his career with injuries, but he has made a lot of big plays in his time. In both games of the home and home with Fresno State he sealed the game with an interception in the end zone. He has 14 tackles, a sack, and an interception on the season.
Thomas Barber – LB – Barber is tied for the team lead with 17 tackles and he had quite a day against Purdue last year. He had 8 tackles and 1.5 sacks against us and he is a leader for the defense at linebacker. He is part of a balanced defense that is giving up 118 yards per game on the ground and 185 through the air.
Who to Watch on Special Teams
Jacob Herbers – P – Herbers has been decent, averaging 40 yards per punt, but there has not been a lot that has stood out on special teams. Minnesota is only 1 of 2 on field goal attempts to far and the return game has not yielded a lot. There could be some room for Rondale Moore on a big special teams return.
I hate to say it, but this game really comes down to Sindelar. If he plays I think Purdue has a pretty good shot. He has proven he can handle the offensive line and running game difficulties and still get the offense to move. He was leading the nation in passing before he got hurt against Vanderbilt and he makes sure we can at least put points on the board. If he doesn’t play I think we see a repeat of the TCU game and last year’s Minnesota game. In both, the defense held fairly strong for a little over a half, but the offense failed to generate anything. The defense then wore down in the second half and things got out of hand.
TCU held the football for more than 40 minutes against us. Minnesota had it for over 33 minutes last year. The Gophers have the running game to grind us into fine powder much like TCU if the offense is not moving the football and scoring points. I think things can go better than they did vs. TCU. I don’t think the Gopher defense is as strong as TCUs, but Jack Plummer isn’t Sindelar, at least not yet. We’re going to have to spread the ball around to our wealth of targets, which Plummer struggled to do.
We’ll know more as the week goes on, but we need Sindelar behind center to win this. Plummer has talent. I think he will be good in time, but if he starts he is going to have to be a lot better than he was against TCU for us to win.