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Minnesota Football vs Purdue: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Forget the first half and there wasn’t much to complain about in the Gophers’ fourth straight Big Ten victory

Purdue v Minnesota Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

The Minnesota Golden Gophers collected a historic 44-31 victory over the Purdue Boilermakers on Saturday. For the first time in program history, the Gophers beat the Boilermakers for the fourth consecutive time. It was also the Gophers’ fourth straight win of the season, improving their record to 7-2. Before we look to the weeks ahead and start sweating profusely, let’s take a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly from a pleasant win over the Purdue Boilermakers.

The Good

Rodney Smith. The Gophers handed the ball to Rodney Smith. Rodney Smith did with the ball what Rodney Smith always does with the ball. With Shannon Brooks (hip) sidelined, Smith was a one-man show, rushing for 153 yards on 24 carries with three touchdowns. Smith now has 954 rushing yards and 13 rushing touchdowns on the season. With four games left, including a bowl game, he needs six more rushing touchdowns to break the single season school record of 18 set by Gary Russell in 2005.

Emmit Carpenter. Fresh off being named a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award, Carpenter proved he belongs on the list with three field goals against Purdue, including a career-long 53-yard field goal in the second quarter. His previous career-long field goal of 52-yards came on the opening drive of the game. The single-season school record for most points by a kicker is Dan Nystrom’s 109 back in 2000, and Carpenter is sitting at 83 points with four games left in the season. Carpenter would need 10 more field goals this season to break the school record for most field goals in a single season (25, also set by Nystrom in 2000).

The second half defense. In the second half, Purdue scored three points, passed for 160 yards, rushed for two yards, turned the ball over twice, and gave up four sacks. Credit defensive coordinator Jay Sawvel for halftime adjustments that completely shut down the Boilermakers and allowed the Gophers to take control of the game.

Blake Cashman. With Cody Poock (shoulder) knocked out of the game, the walk-on special teams standout stepped in at linebacker and finished the game tied for second in tackles on defense. Cashman came up big on third down late in the second quarter, sacking Purdue quarterback David Blough to send the ball back to the Gophers for a touchdown drive that would allow them to take the lead. He would notch his second sack of the game on the Boilermakers’ field goal drive in the fourth quarter.

Turnovers. The Gophers have won four consecutive Big Ten games for just the second time since 1973. A big part of their success has been forcing turnovers. The Minnesota defense has forced 16 turnovers over the last five games and are +10 in turnover margin during that same stretch. The Gophers are also capitalizing off those turnovers, scoring 52 points off of turnovers in their last four games. Against the Boilermakers, Minnesota scored 21 points off three turnovers, all in the second half. That’s not a bad recipe for success, and the Gophers one they’ll need to replicate if they’re going to have a chance in their last three games of the regular season.

Duke McGhee. That interception on the Boilermakers’ opening drive of the second half was incredible and served as a huge momentum swing in favor of the Gophers.

The Bad

The first half defense. In the first half, Purdue scored 28 points, passed for 231 yards, rushed for 21 yards, turned the ball over once, and allowed two sacks. Not to mention the fact that the Gopher defense allowed touchdown passes of 20, 89, and 60 yards. It was a brutal first half for the defense, particularly in the secondary. To his credit, Sawvel accepted the blame for the two long touchdown passes, admitting that he called the wrong coverage on both plays and the Boilermakers capitalized. But this Minnesota defense continues to be susceptible to big plays through the air.

Mitch Leidner. I realize that the interception before halftime was the result of a miscommunication between Leidner and the receiver, but that is a pass you simply cannot throw when you’re a senior and three-year starter. It cost the Gophers’ the lead before halftime and could’ve set the stage of a disastrous second half. And as much as I loved seeing offensive coordinator Jay Johnson take deep shots down the field — including a 46-yard pass to Rashad Still and a 51-yard pass to Eric Carter — Leidner’s inability to hit a receiver in stride prevented those receivers from making a play after the catch. Leidner has not looked sharp since returning from his concussion, and I don’t know what to make of it. I acknowledge there were things he did well against Purdue — his instincts on the zone read were on point this week — and that he performed much better in the second half, but I haven’t been as frustrated with Leidner as I was at halftime of this game since probably the Iowa game. A case could be made for “Good” or “Bad” for Leidner, but this week I lean more towards “Bad.”

The offensive line. Sort of a similar situation to Mitch here. The first half was atrocious. Yet again, the line struggled with the clap count and the Purdue defensive line was able to tee off on the Gophers in the trenches. The rushing offense stalled and Leidner spent most of the half running for his life. Purdue finished the game with six tackles for loss — all in the first half. Credit offensive line coach Bart Miller and the offensive coaching staff for making adjustments at halftime, but is it not a bit absurd that we’re nine games into the season and still struggling with the clap count? Figure it out.

The Ugly

Targeting. The late-game targeting call against Nick Rallis is indefensible. The officiating crew and the Big Ten should both be embarrassed, and I hope the league office reviews the play and overturns the suspension. If not, then the NCAA might as well switch to flag football, because that was a clean tackle. It’s ridiculous that this has become a recurring issue for Minnesota this season.

The offensive playcalling before halftime. I don’t know about you, but I hated the call to throw the ball from the Minnesota 23 with 0:15 left on the clock. The Gophers had the lead and were deep in their own territory with not a lot of time left. Why risk a pass, especially when you look at where Leidner was throwing? Just kneel it. I did not understand the thinking behind that. Feel free to disagree.