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

A lost season moves closer to oblivion

Syndication: Journal-Courier Alex Martin/Journal and Courier / USA TODAY NETWORK

You know what happened on Saturday against Purdue. Let’s get into it.

The Ugly

One of the most disastrous defensive performances of the P.J. Fleck era.

The Purdue offense entering Saturday’s game against Minnesota:

  • 132.8 rushing yards per game (90th nationally)
  • 207.6 rushing yards per game (89th nationally)
  • 20.9 points per game (108th nationally)

The Purdue offense against the Minnesota defense:

  • 353 rushing yards
  • 251 passing yards
  • 49 points

A complete and utter disaster. It’s one thing to get lit up by a good offense. But to get lit up by a bad offense? That’s when you need to take a hard look in the mirror, which I’m not sure head coach P.J. Fleck is capable of doing at this point. Comparisons have been made to the 2018 Illinois game, in which the Gophers surrendered 430 rushing yards and 55 points to the Fighting Illini, prompting the midseason firing of then defensive coordinator Robb Smith. But Joe Rossi has had enough success in his tenure at Minnesota to avoid the chopping block.

So what went wrong?

“Everything,” Fleck said after the game. “What were the issues? Everything.”

He went on to point to the lack of depth at the linebacker position. With Cody Lindenberg not dressed for the game, Minnesota was forced to turn to true freshman Matt Kingsbury when Maverick Baranowski left with an injury in the first quarter. Kingsbury had never played a collegiate snap before this game and this won’t be a game he’ll want to remember for the rest of his career. The Boilermakers took advantage of his inexperience, frequently attacking him in pass coverage.

“Matt Kingsbury is going to be a really good football player for us,” Fleck said. “But he had no business there playing in a Big Ten game in Week 10.”

Kingsbury was one cog in a machine that suffered a total system failure. Fleck talked about their lack of depth at certain positions, which has been exposed by injuries.

“This isn’t the NFL, this isn’t where you go into free agency and go get somebody who’s been playing in the NFL for eight years and just plug them in. This is not that,” he lamented after Saturday’s loss. “Your depth is your depth. I told you before this season started, we’re not a very deep team at some positions, and in those positions we got crushed with the injury bug. And that’s not an excuse. But we’ve got, right behind it, it’s not juniors and seniors and people who’ve played a ton of football for us. It’s some really youthful players.”

But of the defensive starters against Purdue, experience is not exactly lacking:

  • DT Kyler Baugh: Started all 13 games last season after transfer
  • DT Deven Eastern: No starting experience, but played in seven career games
  • DE Danny Striggow: No starting experience, but played in 27 career games
  • DE Jalen Logan-Redding: Started 12 games
  • LB Devon Williams: No starting experience, but playing in eight career games
  • LB Maverick Baranowski: No starting or playing experience
  • CB Justin Walley: Started 19 games
  • CB Tre’Von Jones: Started 27 games at Elon
  • NB Jack Henderson: Started 26 games at Southeastern
  • S Tyler Nubin: Started 24 games
  • S Darius Green: No starting experience, but played in 13 games

If you had a defense of freshmen and sophomores, I could maybe understand a performance like we saw against the Boilermakers. But there is a lot of experience among the defensive backs — albeit at the FCS level in the cases of Jones and Henderson — and I think most would argue that the secondary has been the weak link of the defense this season.

I think Rossi is a good defensive coordinator. I wish he was more aggressive in the first quarter, which is when he tends to sit back and see what the opposing offense wants to do before making his adjustments. But he is a proven commodity at this point based on the turnaround he orchestrated in 2018 and the success the Gophers have had on defense in 2019, 2021, and 2022.

Which is what makes this season so confounding. Is he struggling to adapt this defense to the limitations of the personnel? Is there not enough talent among the personnel? Is the personnel not being developed effectively by the coaching staff? I get that the transfer portal has eroded Minnesota’s depth at a variety of positions, but I just don’t know how much stock I put into the inexperience angle, at least among the defensive starters.

I’m not going to bother with the Elite or the Meh, so feel free to award those yourselves in the comments. I don’t think there is anything remotely elite about giving up 49 points and 600+ yards of offense to a two-win team with a statistically bad offense.

I do agree with one thing Fleck said after the game.

“We’ve gotten everything we deserved this year.”