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Minnesota Gopher Football: So Purdue then

This season we've seen how the Gophers respond after a close loss: with another close loss (week 2 to NMSU), a close win (week 3 against Miami) and a flat-out embarrassment (whatever the hell last week was). Their effort level week to week has been completely unpredictable. After playing so well in the second half against USC, they were overconfident and it cost them against New Mexico State. They played better and beat Miami of Ohio, and you would have expected them to have learned their lesson from the NMSU game by coming out and playing well against NDSU at the Fargo Dome south home, but of course they didn't and were outplayed.

Last week against Michigan was a disaster. Granted, taking the most important offensive player (Q) and defensive player (Stoudermire) away would hurt any team, but 58-0? Yeah, no. They looked like they quit after Michigan got up 14-0, which would be bad enough if that wasn't in the FIRST QUARTER!!!

So coming off that, how will they handle themselves this week on the road against Purdue? Ross-Aid stadium in West Lafayette isn't the most intimidating venue in the Big Ten, but it's been a tough place for Minnesota to play, as they're 1-3 since 2002, and I'm guessing it didn't get much better during the Drew Brees Era before that. The Boilers are 10.5 point favorites, which is too high and too low all at the same time. Despite how horribly Minnesota played last week, remember that in their previous 3 losses the Gophers had the ball on the last drive with a chance to tie the game. Should they have been in those situations against the caliber of teams like New Mexico State and NDSU? No, but if they won either of those we may feel a little differently- or considering how they played last week, maybe not.

Purdue is 2-2 with wins over Middle Tennessee State and 1-AA SE Missouri State, and losses to Rice and No-trah-Dame. Looking at the Big Ten stats, the Boilermakers are better than Minnesota in every single category (if you're looking for where the Gophers rank feel free to look at the bottom, as they're dead last in a LOT of areas) except for three: interceptions (Minnesota has 3, Purdue 2), penalties (Purdue has been flagged 36 times for 308 yards, Minnesota 35 for 258) and red zone defense (the Gophs are 10th, Purdue 11th). And that's it. Purdue ranks ahead of Minnesota in every other possible team statistic.

Their offense has actually been pretty decent; sixth in the Big Ten in scoring offense (29.5 points per game), 7th in passing offense, and 4th in total offense and rushing offense. Of course, against Minnesota's defense Purdue will probably look like the '98 Vikings or 2007 Patriots. Or just like Michigan did last week.

Defensively? If there is a ray of hope, it's their defense hasn't been great. And by not great I mean nowhere near as bad as the Gophers but still...come on, work with me here. I'm trying to find SOMETHING positive to cling to. They're 9th in rushing defense (but only giving up 3.8 yards per carry) and pass defense (225 yards per game) and 10th in sacks with just 4. I don't know, but IF MarQueis is able to play Saturday and be somewhere close to what he was in the first three games of the year, Minnesota could move the ball. But if Q has turf toe as reported (that's a dislocated toe. Think about that. Now think about not only standing and walking on a dislocated toe, but running, cutting, and jumping on it) it would take a Herculean effort to be the kind of runner he was before he got hurt. And without Q behind center, the team has not proven they can run the ball effectively at all- or protect whomever is playing quarterback.

So yeah, that's where we're at. I can't help feeling that somewhere inside that Gopher locker room is the team who outplayed USC in the second half in the opener, and played well enough for four quarters to beat Miami of Ohio (who, we should probably point out, is still winless on the season), so there's a chance that team shows up Saturday and plays Purdue tough. But there's also been far too much of the terrible Gopher team that losses to New Mexico State and NDSU and gets blown out by Michigan. There's just no way to know who's showing up Saturday in West Lafayette, but let's just hope that last week was a wake up call and Minnesota comes out fired up ready to play. Otherwise, it's going to be their third loss in a row, and their last good chance at a win this season.