Minnesota Gophers football team looks to regroup versus Purdue

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - SEPTEMBER 30: Head coach P.J. Fleck of the Minnesota Golden Gophers yells on the sidelines against the University of Maryland Terrapins in the x quarter at TCF Bank Stadium on September 30, 2017 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - SEPTEMBER 30: Head coach P.J. Fleck of the Minnesota Golden Gophers yells on the sidelines against the University of Maryland Terrapins in the x quarter at TCF Bank Stadium on September 30, 2017 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images) /

Coming off a rotten performance at home versus Maryland, the Minnesota Gophers look to rebound against the revived Purdue Boilermakers.

At this point, almost half-way through the regular season, the Minnesota Gophers are in a tight spot. They absolutely need to win this game against Purdue to remain a viable Big Ten team. With upcoming match-ups against Michigan State, Michigan, and Iowa, they need this win against a beatable Boilermakers team.

That is not to say this Purdue team is a pushover. New coach Jeff Brohm has already brought this team to quality wins over Missouri and Ohio, and they played both nationally ranked Michigan and Louisville quite tough. What has been seen from Purdue so far is a complete 180 from the past four years, where they managed a maximum of three wins per year in that span. The defense is stout and the offense has shown progress. Not to mention the team will be emotionally charged up following the death of legendary coach Joe Tiller. The Boilermakers and all of Ross-Ade Stadium will be electric come Saturday afternoon.

After a bye week last week, Purdue comes into this game 2-2. Their two losses coming to the aforementioned nationally ranked teams. The Boilermaker defense has been the primary headline as Jeff Brohm’s creative offensive schemes are still working themselves out.

The statistics do not necessarily illustrate any sort of point as they surrender close to 400 yards per game. 255 of those yards are through the air and they give up around 132 yards on the ground. However, they only yield about 22 points per game, which is top-50 in the nation. Thus, it has less to do with their yardage statistics and more to do with their ability to make timely stops on the defensive end. For the Gophers, it is a similar situation as last weekend against Maryland, who were quite pervious to yards. None the less, they stopped the Gopher offense when they needed to.

Purdue’s offense is a different story as they have been consistently unable to convert meaningful plays offensively. Statistically, they are about on the same level as the Gophers, although they do pass for more yards per game. Questions swirl around whether quarterback David Blough will play. The junior suffered an AC joint sprain in their loss to Michigan, leaving the duties under center to Elijah Sindelar. Jeff Brohm has opted to play a dual-quarterback offense anyway, utilizing both Blough and Sindelar in all four games. Much like we saw with Conor Rhoda and Demry Croft in Minnesota’s first two games.

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Blough claimed on Tuesday that he feels good enough to play. If he plays (which I think he will) expect to see more of him than Sindelar. The glaring issue for Purdue’s offense seems to be their lack of efficiency, especially on third down. In their four games so far, they have converted 17 out of a possible 54 third down chances. For those of you who are not math nerds, that is a 31 percent conversion rate. Per NCAA, that number ranks the Boilermakers 119th out of a possible 129 listed schools in that statistical category.

For a Gophers defense that could not stop a Maryland nose bleed last Saturday, this is welcome news. However, Minnesota surrendered 262 yards on the ground against the Terrapins. Purdue is a run heavy offense, with roughly 50 percent of their play calls being run plays. However, with a banged up Blough under center, expect plenty of blitz packages from Robb Smith’s defense.

Minnesota will look to run the ball on a seasoned Purdue front seven. The Gophers struggled against Maryland last weekend, only accumulating 80 rushing yards. Despite the veteran front seven, the Boilermakers have been known to give up big run plays over time. This happened late in their game against Michigan, a game that was broke open due to said plays. Primarily, it was Michigan’s rotation of fresh running backs that tired out the Purdue defensive line. Lucky for the Gophers, they have that rotation of backs with Shannon Brooks, Rodney Smith, and even Kobe McCrary.

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As per usual, expect the ground game to be the focus of the offense, even though it did not work last week. All defenses have to do is force the Gophers to pass, it takes one film session to see it. Conor Rhoda has shown glimpses, and they have talented pass catchers in Tyler Johnson, Eric Carter, and Nate Wozniak. However, the pass attack has not been consistently effective enough for defenses to completely honor it. Thus, opposing defenses come in with stopping the run as their priority. The adversary’s probability of winning grows higher the more times Conor Rhoda is forced to pass.

That is not to say Rhoda cannot prove me wrong and start slinging it all over the yard. I have even advocated for him getting more opportunities to throw. He led some really good drives and had some dynamite throws against Maryland, and some not so good ones as well. The key is that he learns, and that only comes with experience in practice and during games. I would expect to see some of Demry Croft though, who returned to the team this week after being suspended. Utilizing his speed and athleticism is a valuable weapon for Minnesota.

We know for sure that the Gophers will honor the passing of Joe Tiller with a logo on their uniforms. Tiller led Purdue to the 2001 Rose Bowl with Drew Brees under center, it was Purdue’s first major bowl since 1967 at the time. An extremely classy move by P.J. Fleck in what has been a tough week for Purdue University. See the decal below:

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As far as uniforms go, we can assume the Gophers will sport the maroon helmets seen above. For jerseys, I’m guessing white with either white or maroon pants. Purdue will most likely wear black on black or black on gold. Minnesota has yet to go white on maroon this season, so I’m more inclined to believe they will sport that look.

Antoine Winfield  Jr. is the newest bullet point on the injury report, but he was listed as the starting safety on Tuesday. However, I would be surprised to see him play at all after suffering a hamstring injury against Maryland. You can see the full depth chart here.

Expect an extremely close football game throughout. Whichever team wins will have earned it in what will be a wire to wire bout. What worries me about Purdue is there tendency to give up big plays against the run. Especially versus some extremely able Minnesota running backs. On the other hand, after what I saw from the Gophers last week, my expectations are not too terribly high. If the Boilermakers force Minnesota to beat them through the air, the Gophers might be in for a long day.

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I am a positive thinker though, as many of you know. I like the Gophers to regroup in a very roaring environment given the circumstances. Do not sleep on the fact that Purdue is coming off a bye week either. There is a certain amount of rust attained in a bye week and we saw that last week from Minnesota. Anyway, Purdue is favored in the spread, but I do like the Gophers in a close one on Saturday. Remember, the game can be seen nationally on ESPN2.

Prediction: Gophers 23. Boilermakers 20