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Minnesota Football: Opponent Preview #6 Purdue Boilermakers

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Purdue Harbor...full steam ahead.

Austin Appleby had a good game against the Gophers last October
Austin Appleby had a good game against the Gophers last October
Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

In the next two weeks as we move closer to the start of the 2015 Gopher Football season, we here at The Daily Gopher will give a quick preview of the Gophers opponents. Next up is the Gophers second straight Big Ten road opponent, the Purdue Boilermakers

Name: Purdue Boilermakers
Location: West Lafayette, Indiana
Enrollment: 40,090
Conference: Big Ten (West Division)
Notable Alumni: Neil Armstrong, Sully Sullenberger, Herman Cain, Orville Redenbacher, Benjamin Harrison, Jim Gaffigan, John Wooden, Drew Brees, Bob Griese
Bill Connelly Preview Link: Here!

Last Season:

Last season was a step forward from 2013 for Purdue, but they are still a long ways away from where they want to be. So far Darrell Hazell has not given Purdue fans  (if you can be a fan of something that does not exist) the warm fuzzies they reserve deep in their special places for Joe Tiller.  After a 2-2 non-conference season, Purdue started the Big Ten 1-1 with a loss to most-hated rival Iowa, and a win at Illinois.  They played Michigan State tough before coming to TCF Bank Stadium and scaring the pellets out of the Gophers.  Thankfully Ryan Santoso has a cannon for a leg, and now departed Cedric Thompson was the only Gopher who decided to stop Austin Appleby from throwing the ball to a Purdue receiver.  The Gophers hung on for a 39-38 win that took all of the oomph out of the Purdue season as they finished with four more straight losses to end a 3-9 (1-7) season.

Key Losses:

Danny Etling who was one of two quarterbacks to play a significant amount for the Boilers last season has decided to read the tealeaves that Austin Appleby was going to  start and transferred to LSU.  Yes that one. What may be the biggest blows to the Purdue offense will be the loss of both running backs who had the majority of the carries and yards last season.  Both Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert have departed taking their 265 carries for 1,479 yards and 9 touchdowns with them.  That's a hole that will be tough to fill.  Hunt was also their leading receiver, at least by number of catches, so finding a back out of the backfield as shifty will be nearly impossible. Meanwhile,Mostert was their main kick and punt returner.   Both starting tight ends for the Boilers have also graduated.

On defense both defensive ends from a year ago, Ryan Russell and Jalani Phillips are gone, taking 63 tackles including 11.5 for loss with them.  Purdue also lost three backup linebackers, which may be an issue of one of the starters goes down.  In the secondary, both safeties in Landon Feitcher and Taylor Richards have departed. Feicher is the big loss after leading the Boilermakers in tackles with 88 and interceptions with 5 in 2014.

Key Returners:

Most Purdue fans were somewhat optimistic about the quarterback play of Austin Appleby a season ago.  He returns for his junior season after throwing for 1,449 yards and 10 TDs, but had 11 interceptions as well.  If he struggles, redshirt freshman David Blough would get the call. Keyante Green is the back with the most career carries returning, and he averaged 7.4 yards per carry over his 27 runs a year ago. However he was second on the depth chart behind sophomore DJ Knox after spring practice....so it is still a major unknown.  Purdue will get Danny Anthrop back at receiver after he missed the last three and a half games of the season with an injury.  He and Appleby showed good chemistry against MSU and the Gophers and could be a fairly strong connection.  The strength of the Boilermakers will be their offensive line.  It is arguably one of the best in the Big Ten and returns not only all five starters but all five backups as well. They have 84 career starts between them, but that's not bad for two seniors and three juniors.

On defense Purdue retains defensive tackle Jake Replogle who led the Boilers with 1 tackles for loss a year ago.  Purdue returns all three starting linebackers from 2014 as well. They are a young crew too, with two sophomores and a junior that combined for 20.4 of the Boilermakers tackles in 2014.  Cornerbacks Frankie Williams and Anthony Brown are back for Purdue as well and combined for 17 pass breakups in 2014.  Former Gopher defensive coordinator Greg Hudson will have some work to do with this unit.  Purdue does have nearly automatic points if it gets within a 40 yard field goal attempt as kicker Paul Griggs was a perfect 9-9 from that distance a year ago, but just 7-11 from beyond 40.

Question Marks??

First, can Appleby take control of the starting QB job.  he looked good against the Gophers last season but struggled late in the year without his go to guy in Anthrop.  With him back, can he find again the form he had early in 2014.

Secondly, who will take the majority of the rushing load for Purdue.  With the top two runners gone from a year ago, and no one who really took control in spring practice, who will decide to try and take the job and run with it in what is a fairly tough non-conference schedule with games at Marshall and at home against Virgina Tech.

Thirdly, will Purdue find a way to stop the big play on defense.  They were ok at that a year ago, but with the awful job they did on special teams coverages, playing with a short field a lot is not a good thing.

What Does It All Mean For Minnesota?

The Gophers nearly lost to Purdue last year, and with their unfortunate tendency to drop a road game they shouldn't, this is not a game the Gophers should take lightly.  Just like the previous week against Northwestern, the Gophers are better on paper, but unless they come out ready to go, the potential for a Boilermaker upset is there.  The Gophers need to establish a running game  and take advantage down the field on whatever Purdue will give them.  With two new safeties that may up the middle, so whether that is Jeff Jones in the slot, or Brandon Lingen over the middle, they have to take the most of their opportunities.

On defense, the Gophers will need to do a much better job of stopping Appleby.  Cedric Thompson is not coming through those doors to bail you out this time.  The Gophers have a great secondary, but they did not have  a great game a year ago.  They need to find a pass rush, and force Appleby into making mistakes like he did later in the year.  Purdue's running game is questionable, so if the Gophers can bottle that up and make Purdue go into pass mode, they should look good.

Final Analysis:

The Boilermakers always seem to win a game that shocks everyone in the Big Ten, and the Gophers seem to sleepwalk through a game here or there.  But I don't think that will be an issue here.  After a tough close game at Northwestern a week prior, Jerry Kill will have this Gopher team ready to play against the Boilers.  The defense torments Appleby all day forcing several turnovers and getting several sacks.  On offense, the Gophers rush for 250 yards and two TDs, and Mitch rushes for one himself  hits Jeff Jones for his first Gopher TD, as well as a deep bomb to Melvin Holland Jr.  The Gophers cruise in this one, 44-17.