Saturday reminded us all what Gopher Football looks like. The build up to Minnesota's absolute dismantling of the Purdue defense began one week prior when Northwestern put a similar beat-down on our favorite club. Today's Perspective is going to look back, take stock, and figure out what it means moving forward.
We are halfway through the season and the real question is which Gopher team can we expect to see from here on out?
The Northwestern Gophers
Last week was the Big Ten opener and a chance for the Gophers (particularly the offense) to bury the demons of the non-conference struggles and start fresh in the Big Ten West race. As we all know that didn't happen. Instead we were buried by the Wildcats. Minnesota was outscored, outgained, and outclassed. While deflating, this game may have been the catalyst for something better. Sometimes getting your asses handed to you causes you to bear-down, refocus, and recalibrate.
This game was a breakdown in all three phases and if this is the Gopher team we can expect to see, it is going to be a very disappointing season. But the talk all week about having their backs against the wall made me a believer that things were going to change. All week Jerry Kill told us that throwing 32 times per game is not who we are and it was time to get back to our identity. And the Gophers did just that.
The Purdue Gophers
Purdue knew what was coming and couldn't do anything about it as the Gopher rushed for a season high 326 yards and 41 points. 48 rushing attempts to just 18 pass attempts. Shannon Brooks lead the way with 176 yards on his own and a touchdown. This game was so out of hand that not only did we see Demry Croft at the beginning of the 4th quarter but Jacques Perra saw action to finish off the game.
Accolades all around. The offensive line played their best game of the year paving the way for the 300+ yards on the ground. Matt Limegrover called his best game of the year keeping the Purdue defense on it's heals even when running was a foregone conclusion. Mitch Leidner wasn't asked to do much but he made the necessary plays completing 8/12 passing and throwing 2 touchdowns. The defense was outstanding, I wanted to praise a particular group on the defense but the line, the linebackers and the secondary all were outstanding. Peter Mortell put Purdue inside their own 20 on three different occasions and Ryan Santoso was 2/3 missing only from 50. All three phases came together and it was good.
This is the team we saw in 2014 and expected to see throughout 2015.
So what comes next?
Last week was embarrassing, this week was outstanding and Nebraska comes to town next. I wrote last week about the Northwestern debacle being a turning point for the season.
What does my crystal ball show? I see a big game from the offense this week and a Gopher win. I then see a more confident team hosting Nebraska and this is when Limegrover seems to call his best game to give us back-to-back conference wins followed by a bye week.
Step one was beating Purdue and re-establishing our identify. So far I was completely accurate in my turning point prediction, but it has to continue through Nebraska or the Purdue game will be just a one-game-wonder.
Nebraska was just demoralized with a loss to Wisconsin on a last-second field goal after they were unable to get a game-clinching first down. This followed back-breaking losses to Illinois, Miami and BYU. Fortunately I think that this may be a good thing for the Gophers as a win over Wisconsin might have given them a spark of confidence. Don't let the Husker record fool you though, this team is solid and the Gophers are going to have play well on Saturday to get a home win.
This team is slowly getting healthy (maybe? PLEASE?), the offensive line seems to have found a groove for at least one game and an identity is being re-established. It needs to continue. The Purdue game was just what the doctor ordered, hoping that they take this confidence building win and build on it. The Big Ten West is still out there to be had if this last week is the Gopher team we can expect to see for the final 6 games of the season. Beating Purdue in the way we did was certainly the first step, continuing this style of play and taking a physical game to Nebraska is the next step.