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RoWINg to Purdue - Opponent Preview

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Purdue v Nebraska Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

So, Purdue is good now. And Minnesota is decidedly not.

You’re traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land of imagination. Next stop, West Lafayette!

Were they any good last year?

Record: 7-6 (4-5, Tied-3rd B1G West)
S&P+ Overall Ranking: 41st

The Boilermakers had bottomed out under head coach Darrell Hazell, who compiled an abysmal 9-33 overall record in four seasons at Purdue. But it didn’t take Jeff Brohm to get the train back on the tracks, leading the Boilermakers to their first winning record since 2011 and their first bowl game since 2012. Most impressive was how competitive Purdue played with a new head coach on the sideline. All but one of their six losses came by 10 points or less.

One of those losses was to Rutgers, though.

What about this year?

Record: 5-4 (4-2, Tied-2nd B1G West)
S&P+ Overall Ranking: 25th

Since losing their first three games of the season — coming up short by four points or less in each contest — the Boilermakers have climbed back into Big Ten West contention by winning five of their last six, including a 49-20 upset of then No. 2-ranked Ohio State.

Brohm, in his second season at the helm, will almost certainly be in the conversation for Big Ten Coach of the Year alongside Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald.

Can they score on offense?

If the Gophers could somehow manage a shutout in the first quarter, I’d be elated.

It all starts with David Blough. The Boilermakers’ senior quarterback is completing 65 percent of his passes this season and has thrown for 2,683 yards and 17 touchdowns. And after throwing 21 interceptions last season, he has thrown only seven through the first nine games of this season, with five of those coming in the last two games. Put simply, Blough is playing the best football of his college career. Michigan State did establish a blueprint for neutralizing him, never allowing him to get comfortable in the pocket and forcing three interceptions. I’m not confident Minnesota will be able to do the same, but perhaps interim defensive coordinator Joe Rossi is a magician.

The problem for the Gophers is that Blough has an impressive arsenal of weapons at disposal, led by true freshman wide receiver Rondale Moore. I can almost guarantee Moore will have at least two 50+ yard touchdowns on Saturday. He is a human highlight reel capable from scoring anywhere on the field, with 74 receptions for 833 receiving yards and seven touchdowns so far this season. Moore is the marquee name, but Minnesota’s beleaguered secondary will also need to account for senior wide receivers Isaac Zico and Terry Wright.

As if that group alone wasn’t nightmare-inducing enough, there is also senior running back D.J. Knox to worry about. Knox is in the home stretch of the best season of his Boilermaker career, recording 119 carries for 753 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. He and the rest of the Boilermakers’ bevy of playmakers on offense are operating behind a veteran offensive line that is composed entirely of upperclassmen, including four seniors.

Please tell me the Gophers will be able to score

Purdue is solid on defense, but I think Minnesota will need to ride the connection between quarterback Tanner Morgan and wide receiver Rashod Bateman to put points on the board. Particularly because the Boilermakers are tough against the run, ranking 32nd in the country with an average of 131.4 rushing yards allowed per game.

The Boilermakers’ linebackers are what anchors their defense, in my opinion. Sophomore linebacker Cornel Jones sets the tone in terms of attitude, but junior linebacker Markus Bailey is their most versatile defender. Bailey can play from sideline to sideline and is always around the football. He has also acquitted himself well when asked to drop into pass coverage.

The Boilermaker defense is most vulnerable against the pass, ranking near the bottom of the Big Ten in passing yards allowed per game. Similar to Minnesota this season, the Purdue secondary has struggled in soft coverage. But defensive coordinator Nick Holt took a more aggressive approach against Iowa last week, calling for more press coverage, and the Boilermakers fared much better. Senior safety Jacob Thienemen, a former walk-on, is the leader of this unit, although he is more notable for his blitzes than for his pass coverage.

Purdue hasn’t been able to generate much of a pass rush with their front four, having had to send more bodies to bring pressure. If Minnesota can take advantage of that in the passing game, they might be able to keep pace in what will almost certainly be a shootout.

But who will score more points on Saturday?

Cover your eyes, cross your fingers, and hope for the best. Purdue 45. Minnesota 24.