The Minnesota Golden Gophers and Purdue Boilermakerswill hook up in a key-but-underrated Big Ten West contest on Saturday. Both teams are coming off of losses, as Minnesota dropped its first game of the season last week against Maryland and Purdue lost to Michigan two weeks ago.
Despite stellar starts to their respective seasons and tenures at their new programs, head coaches P.J. Fleck and Jeff Brohm are now both staring down the barrel of an 0-2 start in Big Ten play – less than ideal with the way Wisconsin is playing right now.
Minnesota at Purdue
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 7 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: Purdue -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. How does Minnesota respond to its first loss?
It's been a whirlwind of energy and positivity since the moment P.J. Fleck arrived in the Twin Cities. Minnesota's 3-0 start only amplified that. Now, coming off a tough loss to Maryland – a game the Gophers probably feel like they should have won – it will be interesting to see how they respond, regroup and focus going up against a Purdue team that has already gone toe-to-toe with a couple of really good football teams in Louisville and Michigan. The Gophers can't afford to come out flat, especially on the road, against a team with an offense as explosive as Purdue's.
2. David Blough's Shoulder
For that aforementioned Purdue offense to fire on all cylinders, quarterback David Blough needs to be healthy. Even though it was against one of the best defenses in the nation in Michigan, you could see the Boilermaker offense sputter after Blough left with a shoulder sprain. The Gopher defense may not be on the same level as Michigan's, but the unit is stout enough to cause Purdue some problems if Blough is not fully functional. He says he is, and that's really all we have to go off of right now.
3. Can Minnesota get off the field on third down?
The number one reason the Gophers lost to Maryland last week was because their defense was unable to get stops on third down. Maryland converted on 56 percent of its third down attempts, keeping the chains moving five times on three different scoring drives. The Boilermakers can't run the ball like Maryland can, but the Purdue passing attack is a cut above anything Minnesota has seen to date. The ability of the Gopher defensive line to get pressure combined with the linebackers and young secondary's ability to knock down balls and make tackles before the sticks will decide whether or not Minnesota can keep pace in this game.
This game will be about emotion vs. preparation. Will Minnesota's emotions and ability to bounce back from a tough loss be enough to overcome Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm's extra week of preparation? The odds aren't good, especially on the road and lacking a passing attack to counter that which Purdue boasts. If David Blough is healthy, Purdue's offense will likely be too much for the Golden Gophers' defense. The Boilermakers spread the ball to a variety of playmakers as well as any team in the country. Minnesota simply doesn't have the personnel on that side of the ball to account for Purdue's weapons. Minnesota's only chance is to lean on its strength — running the football — and hope to limit Purdue's possessions. I'm just not sure the Gophers will be able to get that done consistently.
Prediction: Purdue 34, Minnesota 20
— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo!, Bleacher Report and SB Nation. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.
(P.J. Fleck photo courtesy of www.gophersports.com)