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Minnesota Football vs. Purdue: The Elite, The Meh & The Ugly

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The Gophers’ defense came to play for the third straight week

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Purdue Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

It may not have been the emphatic rebound fans were hoping for following the loss to Bowling Green, but the Minnesota Golden Gophers (3-2) got back in the win column with a hard-fought victory over the Purdue Boilermakers (3-2) as they head into their bye week.

The Elite

The Gophers’ defensive line. The first two weeks of the season left Minnesota fans looking for signs of life from a defensive line that was supposed to anchor the Gophers’ defense. Well, better late than never. After totaling a combined 14 tackles for loss and eight sacks against Colorado and Bowling Green, Minnesota racked up seven tackles for loss and four sacks against Purdue. Boye Mafe got the party started with a strip sack on the opening drive of the game, forcing a fumble recovered by Val Martin. The defensive line alone accounted for 5.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks, and they weren’t even at full strength, missing defensive end M.J. Anderson.

The Minnesota linebackers. With Mariano Sori-Marin sidelined early in the game, Jack Gibbens stepped up to lead the team in tackles. Jaqwondis Burns and Donald Willis also saw more playing time with Sori-Marin out, and Burns notched his first career sack. Since allowing 201 rushing yards against Ohio State in Week 1, the Gophers have allowed an average of 46 rushing yards per game and the improved play at linebacker has been a big part of that.

Tyler Nubin’s interception. Late in Purdue’s final drive of the game, Tyler Nubin missed an opportunity at an interception on an overthrown pass from Aidan O’Connell. But he did not make the same mistake twice. On the very next play, Nubin was in underneath zone coverage and baited O’Connell into throwing the ball to Broc Thompson. Nubin was in perfect position to jump the route for the game-sealing interception, his second of the season.

Mark Crawford. The Gophers’ punter had the best game of his college career, punting six times for an average of 51.3 yards per punt. Four of his punts were downed inside the Purdue 15-yard line as he consistently bailed out an offense that struggled to sustain drives.

  • Punted from the Minnesota 33, downed at the Purdue 9
  • Punted from the Minnesota 40, touchback
  • Punted from the Minnesota 39, fair catch at the Purdue 15
  • Punted from the Minnesota 46, fair catch at the Purdue 15
  • Punted from the Minnesota 18, downed at the Purdue 22
  • Punted from the Purdue 47, downed at the Purdue 2

P.J. Fleck won his first game at Minnesota after trailing at halftime. Cheers to never again having to hear about how Fleck has never won a game at Minnesota after trailing at halftime.

1-4. Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm dropped to 1-4 against P.J. Fleck.

The Meh

The Gophers’ secondary. The Boilermakers have a formidable receiving corps, especially when David Bell is healthy. Bell and co. certainly forced the Gophers’ secondary to bend, but they rarely broke, only surrendering one touchdown through the air as Purdue accumulated 371 passing yards. Minnesota made plays when they needed to, recording eight pass break-ups and one interception. Two pass break-ups that come to mind both came courtesy of true freshman cornerback Justin Walley, who had a game of peaks and valleys.

Walley broke up a pass in the end zone while in man coverage against Milton Wright on third down on a fourth quarter drive, forcing a 37-yard field goal attempt that Purdue missed. He came up big with another third down incompletion one drive later while matched up with Bell, forcing a fourth down pass that was short of the sticks for a turnover on downs.

The Ugly

The Minnesota offense. I will take 20 points and a win over 10 points and a loss any day, but it’s clear now that the Gophers’ woeful offensive performance against Bowling Green was not a hiccup. Trey Potts rushed for fewer than 100 yards for the first time since Week 1, with 15 carries for 78 rushing yards and a touchdown. Tanner Morgan was 9-of-18 for 169 passing yards and a touchdown, but 105 of his passing yards came on two completions to Mike Brown-Stephens. The monsoon-like conditions did Minnesota’s receivers no favors, but then again Purdue’s receivers didn’t seem to have as much trouble. I can only hope Fleck and his offensive coaching staff spend the bye week taking a hard look at the deficiencies plaguing their offense.