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Minnesota vs Purdue - Official TDG Preview

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One could argue that the bye week came at a bad time for the Gophers they were riding a wave of momentum after beating Illinois in Champagne and appeared ready for the rest of their schedule.  But one could also argue that the bye could not have come at the more perfect time.  Our two best players on offense were beat up and our offensive line was full of tweaked ankles or knees or whatever.  The bye gave them a chance to heal and get their minds ready for the final five winable games.

We start with a game we once thought would be a tough one to win.  But over the last few weeks this game has appeared more and more winable.  I get the feeling that most Gopher fans are feeling pretty confident about Saturday's game.  Before we get to the preview let me remind you that winningo on the road in the Big Ten is never easy.  Furthermore we have not beat Purdue on the road since 1986 and we've lost nine of our last 10 games against Joe Tiller and his Boilermakers. 

There isn't a team in the conference happier Tiller is leaving and is more willing to give him a swift kick in the ass on his way out.

To give us a little color on Purdue we have Travis from Off the Tracks to answer a few questions for me.

1.  #25 Minnesota is 1-9 in their last 10 games against Purdue.  Unranked Purdue is 0-17 in their last 17 games against a ranked team.  One of those ugly stats looks a little better after Saturday, which will give?

Right now, I would have to say Minnesota’s streak. It has been a good run. I was at the one loss we had in that streak and anyone of about five or six plays would have changed the outcome that day. I recently watched part of that game on Big Ten’s Greatest Games and saw that it really was the beginning of our decline. Our defense was awful that day. Everything was open over the middle and we never made adjustment one to stop it. Maroney went nuts, and Caputo carved us up. That was the last time we were in the top 15, and it started a 6 game losing streak that never should have happened.

Mostly I think Minnesota's streak will get better because you don’t make mistakes. We do. Ironically, the one major area we were concerned about mistake-wise coming into the season hasn’t happened once. Kory Sheets has had a fumbling problem his entire career. When Jaycen Taylor went down and it became apparent he had an increased workload ahead of him we worried about his fumbling issues. He has yet to fumble once and has been the most consistent part of a pretty bad offense.

2. A common theme around here has been expectations.  Purdue and Minnesota's expectations have taken different paths this year in opposite directions.  For those who don't know how what I'm talking about, Minnesota's expectations were rather low to start and have risen to higher levels.  Purdue wasn't necessarily thinking about a BCS title game but expectations were high for Coach Tiller's last season and have drastically fallen.  Your thoughts?  How different would things be in Boiler land had they beaten Oregon?

Ah the Oregon game. When I walked out of Ross-Ade with the same numb "We gave that one away" feeling it reminded me a lot of our double-OT loss in Minneapolis I mentioned above. Both times I left the stadium completely spent. This was very similar to that game in that if you were to change any one of five or six plays on the offensive side of the ball instead of defensively, the outcome is different. Aside from the defensive performance against Ohio State, this team hasn’t played that well since.

I actually predicted a 2-4 start because we were facing three ranked teams and we had a trip to Notre Dame. The history simply wasn’t there, but I expected to be much more competitive and hoped to steal one based on our experience. In short, I expected it to be a much better looking 2-4. Last week at Northwestern was the first time I was wrong in the initial win-loss column prediction. Though record-wise we’re still very close to my expectations, in terms of the actual competitive nature of each game we’re not even close. As far as how things would have been different had we beaten the Ducks, I have no idea. They are looking pretty good out in the Pac-10 at the moment. At the very least it would be a good quality win and give me a better hope of making a bowl game by winning these last three home games.

3.  We know the offense has struggled despite having some weapons in the backfield but I want to know what we can expect from the defense?  They are currently last in the conference in rush defense.  Does DeLeon Eskridge concern you heading into Saturday?

If I had an answer as to what to expect from the defense I would probably be the defensive coordinator right now. This has been a frustrating issue the last couple of seasons. We gave up a ton of yards to Oregon’s great ground game, but really didn’t give up many points (9 came on short fields in the overtimes, 7 from a punt return, and 3 off an interception and short field). We turned Notre Dame, the worst rushing team in America for almost two years running, into Navy in terms of rushing success. I was terrified of Beanie Wells and Terrelle Pryor, yet they were kept very quiet on the day just two weeks later.

I don’t think the defense, aside from quitting in the second half against Notre Dame, has been that bad. It has had stretches of very poor play though. Eskridge running the ball doesn’t scare me as much as him getting it on screen passes. I have been writing for years how this is a huge weakness for us. Not only do we not know how to defend it, we act like we have never seen the play run before in the history of football. Central Michigan did it for two way too easy touchdowns, including the one that nearly became the game-winner. If Weber can avoid the rush and dump the ball to Eskridge after he gets behind it Eskridge will gain at least 20 yards every single time.

As far as our own struggles rushing I don’t really consider them struggles. Sheets is having the best season of a Tiller coached running back ever. The numbers are just low because we have gotten zero production out of anyone but him. Kory, with limited carries has more than pulled his weight. Things might be different had Jaycen Taylor not gotten hurt, but who knows.


4.  What does the future hold for Purdue?  New coach?  New systems?  Recruiting? 

This has been a hot issue on message boards as well as both my blog and Boiled Sports. The general consensus is that it is definitely time for a change. Many are saying that Tiller has simply given up and has already checked out since he got the record-breaking win vs. Central Michigan. We’re a team laden with upperclassmen, but many have been disappointing at best this year. We lose probably our two best receivers next year as well in Greg Orton and Desmond tardy, though Painter hasn’t gotten them the ball much anyway. I’ll break down the future in positives and negatives.

Positives: We get the change we desire in a new coach. I respect everything coach Tiller has done for us, but Danny Hope is supposed to rejuvenate the program with energy Joe has been missing for a little while. Many want him to clean house in terms of assistants, but I’ll reserve my judgment until after the season. Personally, I think the defense will be the strength of the team if we can get players like Jason Werner (who has been "a couple of weeks away" since the season started) healthy and we can develop some linebackers. True freshman Chris Carlino looks to be very promising in the middle, which is sorely needed. Hopefully the offense will be less predictable as well, and we do get Taylor back as a building block.

Negatives: recruiting is the lifeline of the program. Unless some of these four and five star guys we’re going after commit we will have the worst recruiting class in the Big Ten star-wise. Some of the guys we have look to have talent, but an issue or two that is currently holding them back. We need to find a quarterback and Joey Elliott just lost his chance to audition for the role. The schedule is still brutal in that we have to go to Oregon and host Notre Dame before the conference season even starts. Jaycen Taylor will be our only experienced playmaker on offense.

That is all Travis has to say about that.  Thanks, that was very thrurough.  Now on to the game.

Purdue_medium  When Purdue has the ball...

 Over their last two games the Boildermakers have passed the ball twice as much as they have run it.  But don't let that stat totally mislead you.  They do have a dangerous rushing attach with senior Kory Sheets and assuming this game is close throughout they will be run the ball to keep us honest.  And Sheets is the man on the offense that scares me the most.  I know that his two biggest games on the ground resulted in losses for Purdue, but if he goes off for 150+ I feel as though that would spell bad things for us.

The man under center for Purdue is of course Curtis Painter who was expected to be one in the long line at the "cradle of quarterbacks."  But Painter has struggled this year to lead Purdue and he is becoming known as one who cannot win a big game.  In every game since their win over FCS Northern Colorado he has thrown at least one interception in every game.  This is good for us but Painter should worry us because he is a good quarterback and statistically we are still the worst pass defense in the conference.

Overall this is a potent offense that just hasn't been clicking all year.  We may need a couple turnovers to keep them frustrated.

Minnesota_medium

 When Minnesota has the ball...

 There have been multiple times this year I have anticipated a game where we could establish a run game and get some production from a young receiver.  I am going to that well yet again.

Purdue is the worst rush defense in the league giving up 185 yards per game on the ground.  I think we can expect that the extra time for the offensive line to heal and the extra week for Weber's knee to heal should give us a greater opportunity to get the run game going again.  Eskridge had a minor breakout in the Illinois win but I'd love to see him give us 120 and two touchdowns again.

In the air I really (REALLY) hope we see someone else step up and give us a play making threat opposite Decker.  If I were to take a guess I would expect to see David Pittman and Troy Stoudermire as more intregal parts of the offense tomorrow.  Pittman has had extra time to heal that nagging hammy and I think you'll see him on offense more than the couple snaps he has seen all year.  And I think the bye will have given Stoudermire some time to get reps ona few key plays that will utilize his play making abilities. 

Even if everything remains relatively the same we should be able to move the ball and score.  The Purdue defense statistically has given up the most yards in the league (although they have faced Penn St adn Ohio St so that may skew things a bit).  

What to expect...

Scoring and a close game.  If we can score quickly, get a turnover and score again the Boilermakers could show some frustration and we can take control.  But they believe they can win this game and this will be no cakewalk for Minnesota. 

I do think turnovers will come into play.  Purdue has had turnover issues this year and we have been creating them on a regular basis.  These kinds of things are contagious and trends tend to continue at this level.   I fully expect we'll be on the plus side of the turnover margin.  How many we produce and what we do with them will determine the outcome. 

Predictions

GN - This game is close through half time then things unravel for Purdue in the second half.  We don't run away with it but we win by double digits as this team is fresh and ready to prove 6-1 is no fluke.

Minnesota - 34
Purdue - 24

PJS - only slightly less confident than GN, apparently PJS has no confidence in Joel Monroe's leg and we end with 3 fewer points.

Minnesota - 31
Purdue - 24

Your thoughts, predictions and general pontifications?