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Minnesota Football vs Purdue: The Elite, The Meh, and The Ugly

Comfortable wins are for the birds, am I right?

NCAA Football: Georgia Southern at Minnesota Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Golden Gophers improved to 4-0 with another too-close-for-comfort victory, holding off a late rally by the Purdue Boilermakers to escape West Lafayette with a 38-31 road win. But at this point, winning ugly is kind of their thing. So let’s embrace it.

After all, a win’s a win.

The Elite

Tanner Morgan. He is only a redshirt sophomore, yet the Gophers’ quarterback is unlikely to ever have a better game, at least statistically, the rest of his collegiate career. What a performance: 21-for-22 for 396 passing yards and four touchdowns. Morgan’s 95.5% completion percentage is a new Big Ten record. I will concede that his awareness in the pocket continues to be a work in progress, as he was at least partially responsible for half of the Boilermakers’ four sacks. But when he wasn’t on his back, Morgan could virtually do no wrong against a Purdue secondary that looked completely outmatched. It was a glimpse of how lethal this passing attack can be, and should serve as a confidence booster for Morgan moving forward.

Rashod Bateman. Watch this catch:

Now watch this double move:

Elite, right? Yeah, I thought so.

Chris Autman-Bell. Slant route for 70 yards and a touchdown?

Slant route for 70 yards and a touchdown:

Tyler Johnson. Can we please take a moment to appreciate how good this receiving corp is? I mean, when was the last time a Gophers squad had this much talent at wide receiver? When Tyler Johnson, an All-Big Ten performer, is third in line among Minnesota wide receivers to get postgame accolades, things are going well. This is a special group.

Anyway, here is Tyler Johnson’s touchdown catch:

Rodney Smith. The redshirt senior running back continues to show flashes of the elusiveness that was his calling card before he tore his ACL last year. This was as close to a return to form as we’ve seen all season, although he is not quite there yet. Smith rushed for a season-high 115 yards on 22 carries, with one touchdown.

Kamal Martin. Two interceptions for the senior linebacker.

No turnovers. No fumbles and no interceptions. I suppose failing to secure the onside kick was technically a turnover — and a particularly egregious one in the context of the game — but the Gophers needed to cut down on self-inflicted mistakes and I thought they did that.

Winning on the road in the Big Ten. That’s not something the Gophers have been able to do with much consistency over the years. Don’t take it for granted. This was only head coach P.J. Fleck’s second conference road win at Minnesota.

The Meh

The Gopher defense. This is an odd game to assess from a defensive standpoint. When Purdue quarterback Elijah Sindelar and the Boilermakers’ All-Big Ten wide receiver Rondale Moore both went down on the same play in the second quarter, that team lost their top signal caller and the focal point of their offense, respectively. Purdue likely had to throw out most of their offensive game plan, which means Minnesota had to do the same on defense. The Boilermakers turned their focus toward establishing a previously non-existent ground game to help take pressure off back-up quarterback Jack Plummer. It proved effective enough, as freshman running back King Doerue averaged 6.5 yards per carry on the Boilermakers’ four touchdown drives.

It was a lose-lose situation for Minnesota, as a stout defensive performance would have come with the caveat of not having to face Sindelar and Moore, and a less than stellar game would mean they struggled against a defanged offense. Unfortunately, it was mostly the latter.

The optics of allowing a back-up quarterback to throw for 245 yards and a team with no rushing attack to finally find their footing on the ground are bad. Part of the problem was that defensive coordinator Joe Rossi took his foot off the gas in the fourth quarter, opting for softer coverage with a three-touchdown lead. The Boilermakers’ ensuing 99-yard scoring drive — more on that later — is what allowed them to clay their way back into the game. Defensive substitutions and sloppy tackling plagued the Gophers for much of the game. Rossi has a lot to clean up.

The Minnesota Movers. This game was a step in the right direction for the Gophers’ offensive line. It was far from perfect, both in terms of pass protection and run blocking, but they gave Tanner Morgan the time he needed to pick apart Purdue and paved the way for Rodney Smith to have his best game of the season. I’m not sure how much of it had to do with the new rotation that saw John Michael Schmitz take snaps at center while Conner Olson alternately gave Blaise Andries and Curtis Dunlap relief at their respective guard positions, but they clearly did work during the bye week to be a more effective unit.

The Ugly

Failing to corral the onside kick. Can we not?

Purdue’s 99-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. If I were to author a self-destruction book titled, How to Squander a Comfortable Lead, at least one chapter would be devoted to allowing a 99-yard scoring drive in the fourth quarter with a three-touchdown lead. If Purdue doesn’t march down the field and score that touchdown — if the Gophers had managed to get off the field at any point during that drive — the three-touchdown lead is intact, probably with less than 10 minutes to go in the fourth quarter. No onside kick. Particularly maddening was letting Jack Plummer scramble for 18 yards on 3rd and 13. Mistakes were made.

Missed tackles. There were a lot of them. Too many.

Missed holding penalties on Purdue. There were a lot of them. Too many.

The prognosticators at College GameDay. Yikes.