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Minnesota at Purdue Preview

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It’s a pair of one-dimensional and struggling offenses.

Bowling Green v Minnesota Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

It’s another crossroads game for Jeff Brohm.

With a loss on Saturday Purdue will fall to 3-2 and face a narrow road to a bowl game in 2021. It will also drop Jeff Brohm to 22-27, the exact record Danny Hope had when he was let go by Purdue. With a win, Purdue moves to 4-1 heading into its bye week with the lead in the Big Ten West. A bowl game then become likely, with the prospect of the first 7-win regular season in 14 years.

It is another crossroads game for Purdue. The first was the season opener against Oregon State, where Purdue needed a win to set an early tone. It passed that test, then got expected wins over Illinois and UConn while being competitive against a very good Notre Dame team. In terms of wins and losses, Purdue is right on track.

In Minnesota, Purdue faces another similar team. They have suffered an injury to their best offensive player in Mo Ibrahim, who is out for the season with a torn Achilles. They played a competitive game, but lost, against their best opponent in Ohio State. They were awful offensively last week against an inferior team, only they were worse than Purdue and lost as a 30+ point favorite.

Much like Illinois, Purdue has had good seasons when it has beaten Minnesota and poor seasons when it has not. In the last 11 seasons where Purdue has beaten Minnesota the Boilers have reached the postseason 10 times, only failing to do so in 2010. Conversely, Purdue has made the postseason only twice in that time when it has lost to the Gophers (in 10 losses in the last 25 years).

A win on Saturday opens the door to a turnaround season of 7-8 wins that would restore a lot of faith in Jeff Brohm. A loss means Purdue has to get 3 wins out of the toughest part of its schedule in order to play in a bowl game.

2020 Record: 3-4

2021 Recored: 2-2, 0-1

Bowl Result: None

Blog Representation: The Daily Gopher

Series with Purdue: Minnesota leads 40-33-3 (Have won three straight and 7 of 8)

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

Last Minnesota win: Allegedly 34-31 at Minnesota on 11/20/2020

Head Coach: PJ Fleck (28-21 in 5th season at Minnesota, 58-43 overall)

Line: Purdue by 2.5

The Season So Far

It was a bad opening night for the Gophers. Mohamed Ibrahim showed why he was one of the best running backs in the nation by going for 163 yards and 2 touchdowns against Ohio State, but tore his Achilles late in the game and was lost for the season. The Gophers lost that game 45-31, then had wildly difference results in their next three games.

In game two they struggled with Miami (OH), winning 31-26, but not looking great in the process. In week three they went to Colorado and sat on The Buffs’ head for four quarters, allowing just 63 total yards and 6 first downs in a 30-0 win. That game showed a very tough defense, one that carried over to the following week as they allowed just 14 points to Bowling Green.

Unfortunately, the Gophers only scored 10 and lost as a heavy favorite. Minnesota had just 59 yards passing and turned the ball over three times in the defeat. Given four chances to retake the lead after falling behind 14-10 their offense went punt-punt-interception-interception, with the two picks coming on the first play of those respective drives.

Who to Watch on Offense

Treyson Potts – RB – The good news for Minnesota is the running game has not missed a beat. Potts has stepped in and rushed for 474 yards and 5 TDs. He has been over 120 yards in each game and is averaging more than 5 yards per carry. As a team Minnesota is rushing for 209 yards per game, 5th in the Big Ten. By comparison, Purdue is dead last in the conference again at 92.5 yards per game. Minnesota is going to run the ball. That is no secret. Can Purdue at least slow it down?

Tanner Morgan – QB – A senior, Morgan is one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the conference. Two seasons ago he threw for 3,200 yards and 30 TDs with 7 picks as Minnesota went 11-2. So far this year he is having the worst season of his career. He is barely completing 52% of his passes and has only 540 yards and 3 TDs against 2 picks. Last week he was very bad, going 5 of 13 for 59 yards with 2 picks and he was sacked 4 times. Minnesota is dead last in the conference in passing at 135 yards per game and they have attempted only 72 passes. That’s 125th out of 130 teams in the nation, with the usual triple-option suspects below them. Still, two years ago he threw for nearly 400 yards and 4 TDs against Purdue.

Daniel Faalele – RT – He is the Mountain that Blocks. Faalele is a great asset to run behind, as he is a massive 6’9” 380 pound tackle on the edge. How do you even plan for that? He should have a huge advantage in protecting the edge with George Karlaftis and DaMarcus Mitchell coming, but Morgan was sacked 4 times last week by a bad MAC team.

Who to Watch on Defense

Overall the defense has been pretty good. It is second in the conference at 77 yards per game given up on the ground, so Purdue likely will not be able to run yet again, especially since it couldn’t run on Illinois. The pass defense is middle of the road, but considering how one-dimensional Purdue has been that may not matter. Jack Plummer did throw for nearly 350 yards against them last season though.

Boye Mafe – DL – Purdue makeshift offensive line is about to be tested, as Mafe has four sacks on the season and Thomas Rush has three. They will be able to get to the quarterback if Purdue doesn’t drastically improve upfront, but four games in I am not expecting drastic improvement. Mafe is also fourth on the team in tackles with 12.

Mariano Sori-Marin – LB – The senior linebacker leads the Gophers in tackles with 28 and has an interception with two pass breakups. He’s a big linebacker at 6’3”, 245 and he had 10 tackles in the Miami (OH) win. He should be an anchor in the middle of their defense.

Jack Gibbens – LB – Another big linebacker at 6’4”, 245 and he is second on the team with 22 tackles. Purdue’s offense is going to ask Gibbens and Sori-Marin to play pass defense, so that will be an interesting challenge. Gibbesn gets intot he backfield more than Sori-Marin, while the other is more of a pass defender.

Who to Watch on Special Teams

Matthew Trickett – K – If both offenses are going to struggle it may come down to field goals. That is where Purdue has an advantage. Trickett has hit form 50 yards, but is just 4 of 7 on the season. Purdue’s Mitchell Fineran is 7 of 7. Remember: last year’s game was decided (among other reasons) because Purdue had a short field goal blocked and missed another.

Mar’Keise Irving – KR – Surprisingly, the Gophers risk Potts on punt returns and some kick returns, but Irving has most of the kick returns and has a long of 41 yards.

Game Outlook

Whose offense is going to suck more? I have been very pleasantly surprised with Purdue’s defense so far. Purdue’s defense has been best against the pass and it is facing a bad passing attack. Minnesota’s run defense is very good and Purdue is lousy at running the ball. Each defense can make the opposing offense one-dimensional, so the team that manages to get some form of balance will win. Since Purdue might be without its three best weapons (Horvath is out, Durham and Bell are questionable), I am skeptical about our own offense.

We know Minnesota is going to run. They know we’re going to pass. Each team’s respective defenses are in the middle of the conference in those categories. That makes this about as even as possible. Overall, Purdue’s offense has been slightly better, but the last two weeks have not been great and the UConn game is skewing results.

Finally, there is the turnover question. Purdue has forced just two so far. Minnesota has caused seven. Purdue has had terrible fumble luck, forcing six, but they have yet to recover a single one. At some point the Boilers are going to have to add the turnover element to the defense.

I think this will be a low scoring game. Minnesota has given up only 14 points in the last two weeks. Purdue’s defense has kept it in all four games when the offense has sputtered. We even have two games where we did not surrender a touchdown. The improvement of Jack Ansell last week was very welcome, and with Minnesota’s punter averaging less than 40 yards per game we can maybe steal some yards there.