It's Homecoming weekend at the University of Minnesota, and I frankly have no idea what to think. This morning I spent much of my BodyPump session at the Y, along with the usual assortment of cougars and retirees, pondering the right way to approach tomorrow's Purdue-Minnesota tilt. Purdue, per football cliche, is one of the best 1-4 teams in recent memory. It fell in the last minute on the road to what we now know is a darn good Oregon team, it lost in the last minute to a decent Notre Dame team due to a Bielema-esque time out call by coach Danny Hope, and, after taking a 21-3 lead on Northwestern, it proceeded to turn the ball over six times to lose 27-21.
On the other hand, the Gophers. While they haven't been blown out of any game, the wins haven't been overly impressive either (Syracuse, Air Force and Northwestern are proving themselves mediocre). Also, after five games, the loss to Cal is looking less than a "moral victory" the further we move away from it.
I toyed with the statistics. Purdue has lost its 4 games by a total of 18 points. Purdue QB Joey Elliott leads the Big Ten in passing average (255.2 ypg), total passing yards (1,276), and total offense (270.8 ypg). Somewhat impressive. He also completes 62 percent of his passes and has thrown for 10 TDs. RB Ralph Bolden is tenth nationally in rushing, averaging 108 ypg, and has 4 TDs. Interestingly, coming into last week, his stats were equivalent to those of Wisconsin RB John Clay. However, he only had 53 yards on 18 carries against Northwestern.
Purdue also has 5 WRs with more than 10 catches, led by Keith Smith, who has tallied 35 receptions for 459 yards and 3 TDs. Aaron Valentin has contributed 21 receptions for 276 yards and 4 TDs, of which one was for 67 yards. Smith and Valentin, at 6'2" and 6'1" respectively, could create a small height issue for our undersized corners. Our defensive backfield members with size, Rallis and Dandridge, are either injured or suspended due to stupidity.
Purdue's defense? Meh. They give up over 29 points per game, despite having experience on defense. Purdue has two senior DBs (David Pender and Dwight McLean), one fifth year senior (Brandon King), and a SIXTH year senior (Torri Williams). Linebacker Jason Werner leads the team with 32 tackles, 8 TFL and 3 sacks. The other recognizable name is DE Ryan Kerrigan, who has 16 tackles, 5.5 TFL and 2 sacks.
The Boilermakers are giving up 159.4 ypg on the ground and 240 ypg in the air. Despite last week, their turnover ratio is about even, they lose the time of possession battle by about 6 minutes a game, and they aren't heavily penalized.
As for the Gophers. We know what we're getting. Basic, pro-set offense with a heavy dose of Bennett and Decker. On defense, solid (hopefully) run stopping and adequate-to-cover your eyes pass defense.
What are the keys tomorrow? I think I figured it out as I drove south on Lexington Avenue from the YMCA, and passed (I only wished I was kidding) Tiller Lane. I read an amazing article yesterday about the mindset of Tampa Bay's rookie coach Raheem Morris as he considered what to do on fourth and goal at Washington's 4 yard line last week. Should he pass, or should he run? Here's the devastating breakdown of his decision and the mindset of pro football coaches.
Why is this important? Isn't it clear that this is how Jedd Fisch plays football? Conservative as heck, don't push the envelope, completely by the numbers, standard NFL stuff? I think against Purdue it can work. I don't think Danny Hope is settled in as coach (he has the whiff of 2007 Brewster to him - not vintage yet and should be put back in the cellar for ripening). Fisch just needs to play the statistics, the angles, the mix of rushing and Decker, and get to 27 points. Ultimately, Purdue will screw up in some facet of the game - to not do so would belie their performances the last month. The Gophers have comparable talent to Purdue - they should be able to wait out Purdue's mistakes and plod to an unconvincing win, which fortunately counts just as much as a curb-stomping.
(1) Get Decker 10 catches and 150 yards, and try and remind Hayo Carpenter that his Rivals page says he runs a 4.37 40. Getting caught from behind by a D-lineman can never happen, again, okay?
(2) Is Triplett healthy? If not, will Keanon Cooper or someone else play effectively in his place? Will Elliott recognize this and pick on the replacement in the short passing game with Bolden and Jaycen Taylor?
(3) Can McKinley and Tow-Arnett be adequately replaced? McKinley's absence led to The John Clay Experience last week, and as another team in the Big Ten who I can no longer mention on this blog can attest, losing your starting center can throw a serious wrench in your rushing game. Hopefully Trey Davis can be an adequate replacement.
(4) When Weber gets pressure, will he either take the sack and protect the ball or throw it away?
(5) At what point does the question get asked to Ronnie Lee (besides me, of course) - you're a defensive backfield specialist. Why the heck can't this team defend in pass coverage with any consistency?
Alright, we're at this point again. Homecoming outside in the cold (first cold home game for our team in decades - will they be ready?)
Bang your head positively if .............. Decker gets his, Weber doesn't spike himself, and the defense is passable.
Bang your head negatively if ............. Purdue eliminates turnovers, Danny Hope doesn't "interject" in the game, and Joey Elliott continues his conference-leading performance at QB.
Prediction: This is a game that Minnesota should win. If Minnesota executes and plays within itself, that should happen. This game is a critical get - in addition to Brewster's 0-7 record in rivalry games, he's 0-2 on Homecoming. Further, if the Gophers cannot win tomorrow, it would not be inconceivable that the Gophers' only remaining chance at victory is on November 14th against South Dakota State (yes, I do think Illinois > Purdue, but only just). For that reason, a victory tomorrow is way more critical than we may think to this team's season and ultimately, Tim Brewster's future. This is a game he simply has to win if he wants to take this team to play USC in 2011.
Minnesota 27 - Purdue 23.