As disappointing as the beginning of the season has been, things can turn around immediately with a win on Saturday. The Golden Gophers have been the class of a very weak West division so far. They have won all four games in blowout fashion with a dominant defense and solid offense. The non-conference opponents were relatively week, but walking into East Lansing last week and smacking around the Spartans opened a lot of eyes. As a result, the Gophers are now in the top 25.
Minnesota has been an especially frustrating opponent to play of late. PJ Fleck is 4-1 against Purdue and the gophers have won eight of the last nine in the series. The last three have been close. In 2019 Purdue lost by a touchdown thanks to a late rally, but that game was marked by the season-ending injuries to Rondale Moore and Elijah Sindelar. The 2020 was absolute theft in Minneapolis, as the Gophers won by three on an egregiously bad call. Last year Purdue significantly outgained the Gophers, but could not finish drives in a 20-13 loss.
The Boilers are due some good luck in this series, but it may not be enough Saturday.
#21 Minnesota Golden Gophers
2021 Record: 9-4, 6-3 Big Ten
2022 Record: 4-0, 1-0 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 at Purdue on 10/7/2017
Last Minnesota win: 20-13 at Purdue on 10/2/2021
Head Coach: PJ Fleck (38-23 in 6th year at Minnesota)
The Golden Gophers’ Season Thus Far:
In short, Minnesota has been dominant. They have won all of their games by at least four touchdowns. The defense ranks second in the country, having given up only 24 points. Most of that was in garbage time as well, as the first team defense has yet to surrender a touchdown. The only points they have given up before the fourth quarter came from a 1st quarter field goal in a 62-10 blowout of Western Illinois.
Part of it comes from having big leads where opponents have to pass in order to catch up, but the Gophers are third in the nation in run defense at 61.8 yards per game. They are second in the country in allowing just 126 yards per game through the air, and they are the only team in America that is giving up less than 200 yards per game.
It’s not like the offense has been bad, either. They are second in the nation in rushing at 294 yards per game, trailing only Air Force, who doesn’t bother to pass. They haven’t had a need to throw much, but they are still good when they do so at 249 yards per game.
Part of it comes from the opponents. New Mexico State, Western Illinois, and Colorado are a combined 1-12 and Colorado is easily the worst Power 5 team in the country. The win over Michigan State was impressive though. The Gophers were thoroughly dominant on both sides of the ball on the road in a conference game. With remaining crossover games against Penn State and Rutgers there is the very real possibility of an undefeated Minnesota at the end of the year.
Who to Watch on Offense
Mohamed Ibrahim – RB – You wouldn’t know it by his play, but Ibrahim is back after tearing his Achilles in last season’s opener. He is second in the country in rushing through four games with 567 yards, trailing only Chase Brown of Illinois. He has also scored 8 touchdowns. Barring another injury he will easily pass 4,000 yards for his career later this season and he has a history of big games against Purdue. He went for 155 yards in 2018, missed the 2019 game, and went for 103 yards and three touchdowns in 2020. Purdue is going to face some very good running backs in the next few weeks, but he might be the best.
Tanner Morgan – QB – Morgan is a fifth year starter thanks to COVID and he can become the first college QB ever to beat one team five times in his career. He is also playing extremely well, throwing for 886 yards and 7 scores against 1 pick. For good measure he has added 52 rushing yards and 3 more TDs on the ground. Morgan and Ibrahim are a better version of Garrett Shrader and Sean Tucker that Purdue already faced in Syracuse.
Chris Autman-Bell – WR – Another senior who has tormented Purdue in the past, Autman-Bell has 11 receptions for 214 yards and a TD. He had a TD in last year’s game and had three catches for 97 yards and a score in 2019. He will likely go over 2,000 yards for his career in this game, and he has 13 touchdowns overall. Minnesota doesn’t pass a ton, but when they do, Autman-Bell has been the preferred target for a while.
In my assessment, Minnesota is basically an offense like Wisconsin, only they have a much better QB at the moment. They have a featured back that is a stud and a backup who is still pretty good in Trey Potts (291 yards and 3 TDs). Potts also had 78 yards and a score last year at Purdue. They are going to run first and set up playaction. We know what is coming. It is up to us to stop it.
Who to Watch on Defense
Mariano Sori-Marin – LB – Sori-Marin is yet another fifth year guy taking advantage of his COVID year, like Morgan, Ibrahim, and Autman-Bell. He leads the team with 25 tackles and he is an extremely experienced linebacker anchoring a defense that has been stellar so far.
Danny Striggow – DL – Striggow only has five tackles, but he has two sacks and an interception, so he has proven he can make big plays. He is only a sophomore that had one tackle last year, but year two has gone very well for him.
Tyler Nubin – DB – Nubin is third on the team with 10 tackles and he had three interceptions a year ago. One of those was the game clinching interception in the final minute as Purdue was driving to tie.
This has been one of the best, if not THE best, defenses in the nation so far this year. Part of that is schedule, but they have still needed to go out and deliver. There is a very good chance they will be facing a backup quarterback, too. They are stout against the run and Purdue has yet to prove it can run consistently against a Power 5 team (though it did run well last year against the Gophers). If Aidan O’Connell can’t go, I don’t like our chances.
Who to Watch on Special Teams
Matthew Trickett – K – Trickett is a perfect 5 for 5 on the season on field goals with a long of 46 yards. The offense as a whole has been so good Minnesota has punted just three times for a 34 yard average.
Quentin Redding – PR, KR – The Gophers haven’t done a lot in the return game, but Redding handles both duties.
It boils down to one question: Will AOC play? If he does, Purdue has a chance as it will combat a great defense with one of the best passers in the nation. If he doesn’t, I fear it will be a long day for Purdue.
This is basically a must-win if we want to have any chance of winning the Big Ten West. Minnesota looks like the best team in the division and we’re already a step back with the Penn State loss. Being two games back plus not having the tiebreaker makes for a very long road to winning the division.
I don’t like our chances this week. Minnesota has been playing too well and Purdue has all the markings of being a good team that can’t get out of its own way, like in 2002.