Gophers take on the banged-up Boilermakers in Big Ten opener for both teams
The series dates back to 1894 when the Golden Gophers blanked the Boilermakers with a 24-0 victory. Overall, it's been a mostly even battle with Goldy's crew holding a 38-33-3 edge.
Since taking over at Minnesota in 2017, each of P.J. Fleck's teams has started the year 3-0 before dropping their Big Ten opener, with things usually going downhill from there. Fleck is 15-13 overall as the Gophers' head coach but trying to improve upon his 5-13 mark in conference play.
On the other side, Clearly Jeff Brohm feels there’s a great deal that can be accomplished in West Lafayette and his recruiting supports that. He is 13-15 overall over the same time span as Fleck but his Boilermakers have fared better against Big Ten competition (9-9), finishing tied for third and second in the West division in 2017 and '18, respectively.
This is a rubber match of sorts as the teams have split first two meetings between these head coaches at their current schools. Minnesota won last season, 41-10, in Minneapolis.
Minnesota at Purdue
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 28 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Pick 'em
When Minnesota Has the Ball
After Zack Annexstad went down early with a foot injury, backup quarterback Tanner Morgan was thrust into the spotlight. He's been good enough to help the Golden Gophers eke out three straight wins, completing 48-of-72 passes for 669 yards, six touchdowns, and two interceptions.
P.J. Fleck has several options in the backfield with Rodney Smith leading the way (210 rushing yards). Mohamed Ibrahim is tied with Seth Green for the lead in rushing touchdowns with two, and Shannon Brooks is expected to make his season debut after missing all but one game in 2018 due to a knee injury. The increased depth may help Minnesota pick things up on the ground. As a team, the Gophers are averaging just 2.6 yards per carry, although they do have seven rushing touchdowns.
When Morgan drops back to pass he has plenty of options to throw to as well. The top two targets are senior Tyler Johnson (17 rec., 239 yds., 3 TDs) and sophomore Rashod Bateman (15, 289, 1) with Chris Autman-Bell (6, 93, 1) also chipping in.
Purdue's defense has struggled thus far and injuries can somewhat be blamed for this. Defensive lineman Lorenzo Neal has yet to play due to an offseason knee injury. He is expected to return at some point in October. A potential bigger loss is the season-ending knee injury (torn ACL) linebacker Markus Bailey suffered in practice prior to the Boilermakers' last game against TCU.
As for the rest of the defense, Derrick Barnes has led the charge up front. Freshman George Karlaftis has been a pleasant surprise as he leads the team in tackles for a loss with 3.5. Fellow lineman Anthony Watts only trails him by one.
Senior linebacker Ben Holt has been the anchor in the middle, leading the team and ranking third in the Big Ten in tackles with 35 (21 solo stops). Defensive backs Kenneth Major and Dedrick Mackey do their best to keep the opponent's passing production to a minimum. But the reality is that the Boilermakers are last in the Big Ten against the pass, giving up 263.3 yards per game. Not the best stat to have for a matchup with the nation's fourth-ranked passing attack (371.0 ypg).
When Purdue Has the Ball
Quarterback Jack Plummer made his first career start versus Georgia Southern two weeks ago. It was a bumpy start as he went 13-of-29 for 181 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.
At this point, it's unknown if Elijah Sindelar will have fully recovered from a concussion suffered versus Vanderbilt. If he can't go, Plummer gets a chance to make the offense hum yet again.
The Purdue rushing game has been virtually non-existent. The Boilermakers are barely averaging even two yards per carry and have just one rushing touchdown through three games. Zander Horvath is the leading rusher with 91 yards on 33 carries. Next highest on the list is King Doerue with a whopping 37 yards.
That puts even more pressure on the passing game, which may not have Sindelar at the controls. Do-it-all sophomore Rondale Moore may, in fact, have to do it all for Purdue to have a shot. But that may not bode well considering TCU figured out how to shut him down last week in a 34-13 victory.
Whoever ends up at quarterback needs more assistance from the likes of Brycen Hopkins, Amad Anderson Jr., and David Bell. Pass protection hasn't been much of an issue to this point, as the Boilermakers have given up just four sacks despite averaging 44 pass attempts per game (eighth in FBS).
For Minnesota on defense, All-Big Ten defensive end Carter Coughlin must be accounted for or he'll have a field day. Accompanying him will be Thomas Barber and Kamal Martin, second and fifth on the Golden Gophers in tackles.
The secondary has gotten plenty of opportunities to shine with Jordan Howden leading the team in tackles while Antoine Winfield Jr. and Chris Williamson also clean things up on the backside. Minnesota has surrendered just four touchdown passes thus far with three interceptions.
This game has the potential to be a great deal of fun as injury and mental fatigue will play a huge part. As we saw with TCU's dismantling of Purdue, home-field advantage doesn't usually mean much sans a tilt like Ohio State.
It looks to be a contest about trends. Minnesota's getting essentially its entire running game back, the Gophers are riding a three-game win streak and appear ready to take that next step in Big Ten play.
Purdue, on the other hand, seems shaky at best and while Jeff Brohm is an excellent head coach, his team is simply in a bad spot. Injury has poked holes in what is a usually entertaining offense and his defense looks unfortunately porous.
Prediction: Minnesota 31, Purdue 27