Goodbye, bye week. Hello, Purdue Boilermakers.
The Minnesota Golden Gophers open up Big Ten conference play with a trip to West Lafayette for what is almost certain to be another too-close-for-comfort game.
Are they any good this year?
2019 Record: 1-2 (0-0, Big Ten West)
The results thus far have been inconclusive at best, but the early goings have certainly not been kind to Purdue. The Boilermakers dropped their season opener against Nevada, surrendering a 24-7 halftime lead as the Wolf Pack outscored them 27-7 in the second half for a last-second 34-31 victory. Returning home to West Lafayette, Purdue proceeded to throttle Vanderbilt 42-24, but in the process lost quarterback Elijah Sindelar to a concussion. Without Sindelar under center against TCU the following week, the Boilermakers stalled on offense, sputtering to a 34-13 loss.
Can they score on offense?
It really depends on who is under center. It’s no secret that the Boilermakers are much more effective on offense with Sindelar at quarterback. Behind him is redshirt freshman Jack Plummer, who saw the first collegiate action of his career against TCU and was underwhelming, to say the least. He completed less than 50 percent of his passes and threw two interceptions, and only managed to lead Purdue on a touchdown drive on their last offensive possession of the game.
Rondale Moore needs no introduction. The sophomore All-Big Ten wide receiver is the centerpiece of the Boilermakers’ offense and for good reason: He can score from anywhere on the field. The Gophers were able to bottle him up for the most part in Joe Rossi’s first game as defensive coordinator last season — eight receptions for 76 yards and one touchdown, which came with six minutes left to play, is a good day against Moore — and Minnesota will need to do so again if they hope to keep the Purdue offense in check.
Unfortunately, Moore has made new friends. Chief among them is redshirt freshman wide receiver Amad Anderson Jr., who is a bit undersized at 5’11” and 175 pounds but has made a name for himself as a tenacious target in the passing game. Anderson ranks second on the team with 13 receptions for 167 receiving yards. Freshman David Bell had a promising start to the season, hauling in six receptions for 130 yards and one touchdown, but was banged up against TCU with a shoulder injury. And keep an eye out for senior tight end Brycen Hopkins, who has emerged as a red zone threat with three touchdowns in three games.
Purdue does not really have anything resembling a rushing attack. They are averaging 50 rushing yards per game and 2.1 yards per carry, to go along with only one rushing touchdown through three games. They don’t seem particularly concerned with establishing the run, occasionally dispatching a pair of underclassmen — sophomore Zander Horvath and freshman King Doerue — to grind out yards behind an offensive line that has struggled mightily out the gate this year. The Boilermakers graduated four of last year’s five starting offensive linemen in the offseason, and their replacements seem to lack the necessary talent and experience, to be frank.
One last thing to note: Head coach Jeff Brohm made a point last week to note that redshirt junior wide receiver Jackson Anthrop will also start seeing snaps at running back. Watch out for any new Anthrop-related wrinkles on Saturday to jump start the rushing offense.
Please tell me the Gophers will be able to score
The Boilermakers’ defense is solid, although the loss of senior linebacker Markus Bailey to a season-ending knee injury is a significant blow. In their first game without Bailey, Purdue saw TCU run roughshod over their small defensive front, gashing them for 346 rushing yards. Graduate transfer linebacker Ben Holt has emerged as a standout, especially in Bailey’s absence, leading the team with 35 total tackles through the first three games.
The Boilermakers may be vulnerable on the interior defensive line, but their real strength is on the edge, where junior Derrick Barnes and freshman George Karlaftis have emerged as a formidable pass rushing tandem. Karlaftis, in particular, has been something of a revelation, pacing the rest of the defensive line with 21 quarterback pressures, 14 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, and an interception. But even with Barnes and Karlaftis putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks, Purdue has been vulnerable to chunk plays through the air, allowing at least 10 receptions of 20 yards or more in the first three games of the season.
And those big pass plays have come against a solid secondary led by senior safety Navon Mosley and a pair of redshirt sophomore cornerbacks, Dedrick Mackey and Kenneth Majors.
The big test for Minnesota will be whether their offensive line can play physical against a Purdue defensive line that has lacked physicality. In fact, neither unit has been very physical in the early goings. The more physical line will dictate the game on Saturday. TCU set the tone in the trenches in the second half against the Boilermakers and wore down their defense. The Minnesota Movers will also hopefully have used their bye week to shore up their pass protection, because Purdue will most certainly be coming after quarterback Tanner Morgan. If the Gophers can give him time to find the holes in a leaky Boilermakers secondary, look out.
But who will score more points on Saturday?
Shannon Brooks is set to make his season debut for the Gophers on Saturday and, considering his past success against the Boilermakers, I’m taking that as a good omen. The best chance for a “comfortable” victory is if Plummer is at quarterback for Purdue, but even if Sindelar is under center, I think Minnesota is well equipped to keep pace on offense and hold serve on defense. It will be a big game for the Gophers’ offensive line, and I think they come to play. But it will be a close game, because of course. Minnesota 30, Purdue 24.