How does a team respond after a humiliating 55-31 loss to Illinois that led to the firing of their defensive coordinator a little over 24 hours later?
Apparently by playing their best game of the season.
Interim defensive coordinator Joe Rossi. First, a word of caution: I would advise against anointing Rossi as the new defensive coordinator at least until after these next two games. But my God, what a first game. Taking over playcalling after Robb Smith was relieved of his duties a week ago, Rossi delivered a stunning performance that was unlike anything we’ve seen from the Gopher defense up to this point in conference play.
Purdue came into the game averaging 330.3 passing yards per game, 155.6 rushing yards per game, and 33.4 points per game. It certainly seemed like a match made in Hell for a beleaguered Minnesota defense that was allowing 261.1 passing yards per game, 246.5 rushing yards per game, and 43.1 points per game against Big Ten opponents.
But behind a game plan that Fleck said was designed for them to play “sound, simple, and fast,” the Gopher defense completely shut down the Boilermakers’ vaunted offense, limiting them to 145 passing yards, 88 rushing yards, and a season-low 10 points.
The Boilermakers were also 0-for-12 on third down. Zero third down conversions.
And this was a defense that was playing without starting defensive backs Antoine Winfield, Jr. and Antonio Shenault and starting defensive tackles O.J. Smith and Royal Silver.
Blake Cashman. In his postgame press conference, head coach P.J. Fleck said that both he and Cashman agreed the Illinois game represented the worst of game of his career. Well, the senior linebacker bounced back in spectacular fashion, leading the Gopher defense with nine tackles, 0.5 sacks, one pass break-up, and a back-breaking forced fumble which he then scooped up and returned 40 yards for a touchdown. It was also Cashman who stopped David Blough on 4th and 1 in the second quarter to get Minnesota the ball back in Purdue territory.
Seth Green. The Gophers’ most dangerous weapon on offense continues to be exactly that, defying expectations that he would not be as effective at this point in the season. Green rushed for 30 yards on eight carries against Purdue but went to the air to deliver Minnesota’s first touchdown of the game, finding a wide open Jake Paulson for the score.
The Gophers’ ground game. Minnesota struggled to find a rhythm with their passing game in the first half, in part due to the weather conditions, so being able to run the ball effectively in the second half was going to be important to maintaining and extending their lead. Freshman running backs Mohamed Ibrahim and Bryce Williams certainly delivered, combining for 223 rushing yards on 27 carries (for an average of more than 8 yards per carry).
gopherdoctor. As promised, gopherdoctor earned a shoutout here after fulfilling my request in last week’s column for a graphic of Bart Simpson writing “The ball is the program” over and over on the chalkboard. I appreciate you, gopherdoctor.
The passing game. This was a textbook example of a “meh” performance from redshirt freshman quarterback Tanner Morgan and his wide receivers. Both had their fair share of lows — several errant passes from Morgan and enough drops to make you want to crawl under your seat in the stands — and their fair share of highs — a slew of contested catches that made those drops even more baffling. This kind of inconsistent play is to be expected from a very young group.
41-10. The 31-point loss for Purdue represents the largest margin of defeat in the Jeff Brohm era. 41 points is also the most the Boilermakers have allowed on defense under Brohm. Purdue losing also helped Northwestern punch their ticket to the Big Ten Championship.
It was a bad day for Jeff Brohm.