It is a return to the scene of the crime.
Purdue has never won at Minnesota’s Huntington Bank Stadium since it opened in 2009. The Golden Gophers have won eight of the last nine against Purdue, and they are a spotless 6-0 against the Boilers in their new digs. The latest game there was an absolute crime of a result, where Minnesota absolute stole a win thanks to an egregious offensive pass interference call. It ended up torpedoing the abbreviated 2020 season.
The current incarnation of the Gophers will always be paralleled with Purdue because both PJ Fleck and Jeff Brohm entered the league at the same time (and Purdue allegedly pursued Fleck for its open position in late 2016). Brohm got the first game in 2017, but since then Minneosta has won four in a row. Most of have been close. In 2019 Purdue lost by a touchdown after losing Elijah Sindelar and Rondale Moore for the season on the same first half play. The 2020 game was stolen valor, and last year Purdue struggled to score points in Gopher territory in a frustrating 20-13 loss.
This year’s game could be a huge one. If Purdue enters at 4-0 the Boilers can seize the opportunity before them in the Big Ten West with a win. It would be a great time to get our first win in Minneapolis since 2007.
Minnesota Golden Gophers
2021 Record: 9-4, 6-3 Big Ten
Bowl Result: Beat West Virginia 18-6 in Guaranteed Rate Bowl
Blog Representation: The Daily Gopher
Series with Purdue: Minnesota leads 41-33-3
Last Purdue win: 31-17 on 10/7/2017 at Purdue
Last Minnesota win: 20-13 on 10/2/2021 at Purdue
Head Coach: PJ Fleck (35-23 in 6th season at Minnesota, 65-45 overall)
Last Season for the Golden Gophers
Say what you will about Fleck’s antics, but he has had some really good success the last two full seasons in Minneapolis. In 2019 Minnesota had its best season in decades, going 11-2 and narrowly missing the Big Ten championship game with a 4 point loss to Iowa and 21 point loss to Wisconsin. They dipped to 3-4 in the pandemic season that really doesn’t count, but were an impressive 9-4 last year. They looked bad in a 14-10 loss to Bowling Green, but recovered to win four straight. Late losses to Illinois and Iowa cost them a shot at Michigan in the Big Ten title game, but a 9-4 season with a bowl win was still a net positive.
What’s even better for them is that this all came after the loss of Mohamed Ibrahim in the season opener against Ohio State. Fleck has built a team that is a lot like the Wisconsin we have seen over the past 30 years. They have a massive offensive line with a lot of good running backs and a quarterback that manages the game well. So far, that strategy has worked.
In one of the more surprising bits of news to come out of the offseason, Ibrahim announced he was returning to Minnesota for this coming season. He was having a great game in the opener against Ohio State, rushing for 163 yards and two scores on 30 carries before a torn achilles ended his season. This was after 1,000 yard rushing seasons in 2018 and in 2020, with the 1,076 yards and 15 TDs he put up in 2020 coming in just seven games. If fully healthy, Ibrahim might be the best back in the Big Ten. His main backup will be Trey Potts, who had 552 yards and 6 TDs last year. Even though the Gophers lost their top two returning rushers to the transfer portal the ground game should be fine. Potts ran for 79 yards and a score on 15 carries against Purdue last year.
Minnesota is also set at quarterback, as Tanner Morgan returns for his final season. In 2019 he was great, throwing for 3,253 yards and 30 TDs against 7 INTs. His numbers were down last year, as he threw for 2,044 yards and just 10 scores against 9 INTs, but his experience is a major asset. Top receiver Chris Autman-Bell is also back after catching 36 passes for 506 yards and 6 TDs.
The Gophers should be good again up front, too. Quinn Carroll (Notre Dame) and Chuck Filiaga (Michigan) add depth as incoming transfers and John Michael Schmitz is one of the best centers in the league. They will help a Minnesota run offense that was third in the league at 198.1 yards per game. That offense did sometimes struggle, as they were only 7th in scoring at 25.5 per game.
In short, the defense was pretty good a year ago. They rated second in the Big Ten at 17.3 points per game behind only Wisconsin. They held teams under 100 yards per game on the ground and the pass defense was the second best in the Big Ten as well. They didn’t cause many interceptions with only 8 on the year, but they were good at limiting big plays. We also saw in our game how they could buckle down when teams got into their territory.
Minnesota is getting a big addition on the transfer market with Clemson defensive lineman Darnell Jeffries. Thomas Rush led the team with 5.5 sacks and should provide a consistent pass rush on the edge. Trill Carter is an experienced tackle that will anchor the middle.
The Gophers lost their top tackler, but Mariano Sori-Marin is back after gathering 85 tackles and an interception last year. In the secondary the Gophers are set at safety with Tyler Nubin and Jordan Howden. It was Nubin’s late interception that sealed last year’s 20-13 Purdue loss with just under a minute left. Beanie Bishop is a big transfer addition from Western Kentucky.
Minnesota Special Teams
Matthew Trickett is a fifth year senior that had a solid season kicking last year. He was 17 of 25 on the year and made a pair of field goals against Purdue. He has 50 yard range and was 29 of 34 during Minnesota’s great 2019 season. Mark Crawford is also back as their punter after averaging 41 yards per kick.
The return game will mostly feature Potts and Bryce Williams, but neither had a big kickoff return a year ago.
The recent history with the Gophers has been incredibly frustrating. Last year Aidan O’Connell threw for 371 yards in the rain, but had only one TD as the offense floundered big time once it got into Minnesota territory. Purdue outgained the Gophers 448-294, but four drives reached Gopher territory in the second half and they resulted in zero points. Purdue went punt (set up by a sack), missed field goal, turnover on downs, and interception on those drives. When you throw that in with the 2020 robbery and the 2019 “what if” of Moore and Sindelar going down on the same play it leads to a frustrating series.
Minnesota should be pretty good again in 2022. They have a lot of offensive pieces back and, if healthy, Ibrahim is a stud. For whatever reason Fleck has had Brohm’s number just like Brohm has had Kirk Ferentz’s number. They have the ground game to grind us down and keep the offense off the field.
After winning eight of nine Minnesota has entered that “We need to prove it” territory. I think we have an excellent chance at being 4-0 and in the top 20 headed into this game. The winner will have a major leg up in the West race. Minnesota 24, Purdue 20