The Minnesota Golden Gophers sit at 2-2 (0-1 Big Ten), nursing their wounded pride after a shocking 14-10 home loss to the Bowling Green Falcons. Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck did not try to sugarcoat the loss to Bowling Green, as Minnesota were 30.5-point favorites.
Fleck seems to be doing his best to put the loss behind Minnesota before the Golden Gophers face Purdue on Saturday afternoon — but not lose the lessons learned from the disappointing outcome.
"I'm never one to overreact about one game," Fleck said. "We're always going to have this one-game season. We wanted to be one to know in the Bowling Green season and it did not work out. It's unfortunate, and there's a lot of reasons why that happened. But what we talked about when we got back in there on Sunday was whether we win or lose, we say the same thing. Whether we win or lose, no matter who we win or lose to. We come in on Sunday, and either celebrate the win or we forget about the loss. We put a leather vest on and go right back to work. And that's the mentality of those one-game seasons. As hard as it is to get over, you get over it and you move on. You put your oar back in the water and you row. That's what the loss really means in our program, and it's to learn. You have to have loss to have winning. And you have to be able to respect losing to win."
On the other sideline, the Purdue Boilermakers are exhaling after a close 13-9 win over the visiting Illinois Fighting Illini. The win leaves the Boilermakers at 3-1 (1-0 Big Ten) and came without key players including wide receivers David Bell and Mershawn Rice, cornerback Cory Trice, and running back King Doerue. Purdue also lost tight end Payne Durham and defensive linemen Branson Deen and DaMarcus Mitchell during the game.
The win by Purdue looks even more impressive when viewed through the context of the Purdue offensive statistics. Jeff Brohm needed both Aidan O'Connell and Jack Plummer at quarterback, while the Boilermakers were only able to rush for 38 yards as a team, with both of the top two Purdue running backs out of the game.
Minnesota at Purdue
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 2 at 12 p.m. ET
TV: Big Ten Network
Spread: Purdue -2.5
When Minnesota Has the Ball
Minnesota relied upon Mohamed Ibrahim extensively in 2020, only to lose him after the first game of the 2021 season versus Ohio State. Trey Potts has picked up the rushing mantle after Ibrahim's injury and responded beautifully versus Bowling Green in a losing effort. Potts carried the ball 27 times for 141 yards, averaging 5.2 yards per carry.
Minnesota needs to get better passing production from Tanner Morgan. Morgan had a dreadful game versus Bowling Green, completing five of his 13 pass attempts for only 59 yards, with two interceptions. If Morgan cannot do a better job passing the ball, look for Purdue to stack the box against the Golden Gophers to stymie the Minnesota rushing offense.
Purdue has improved considerably on the defensive side of the ball in 2021. Against Illinois, the Boilermakers were able to rack up two sacks and nine tackles for loss. Among the leading Boilermaker defenders is defensive end George Karlaftis, who had five tackles, one sack, and one tackle for loss versus Illinois.
When Purdue Has the Ball
Brohm has a decision to make at quarterback, with either O'Connell or Plummer to be named the starter versus Minnesota. O'Connell came on to relieve Plummer against Illinois, throwing the winning touchdown that proved to be the decisive margin.
Purdue is fine at passing the ball but really struggled against Illinois running the ball. If Minnesota can make the Boilermakers truly one-dimensional offensively, it could prove to be another low-scoring affair.
A name for Purdue fans to be aware of on the Minnesota defensive front is Golden Gophers defensive lineman Boye Mafe, who is tied for second in the Big Ten with four sacks. If Purdue is going to try to win this game with a predominantly passing offense, the Boilermakers will need to account for Mafe's disruptive presence.
Minnesota will want to prove all of the skeptics wrong after playing so poorly against Bowling Green, but the Gophers will be on the road against a Purdue team that is very stout defensively. Purdue has issues of their own offensively, but the poor Minnesota passing game may be too much for the Golden Gophers to overcome in this Big Ten West divisional contest.
Prediction: Purdue 17, Minnesota 14
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— Written by Chip Minnich, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He also is podcasting for Buckeye Scoop. Follow him on Twitter @ChipMinnich.