A pair of Big Ten West teams with similar records but in entirely different situations will meet up Saturday afternoon when Purdue pays a visit to Minnesota. The Boilermakers (5-4, 4-2 Big Ten) not only need just one more win to become bowl eligible, they still have a shot at winning the division. Meanwhile, the Golden Gophers (4-5, 1-5) have been eliminated from the West race and have their work cut out for them if they want to play in the postseason.
With a home date against Wisconsin looming, Purdue must take care of business in Minneapolis if it wants to keep its division title hopes alive. The Boilermakers have already made a name for themselves with their upset of then-No. 2 Ohio State and are coming off of a 38-36 road win against No. 16 Iowa.
Minnesota is looking to rebound after getting blasted by Illinois, 55-31, last week and is in a tough spot with games against Northwestern and the Badgers still on tap. The Gophers have to find a way to win two of their last three games or it will two straight seasons under P.J. Fleck with no bowl appearance.
Minnesota has won four of the past five meetings with Purdue, although the Boilermakers were victorious at home last season, 31-17.
Purdue at Minnesota
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 11 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Purdue -11.5
Three Things to Watch
1. BMOC Blough
Purdue's quarterback is an underrated star. He is eighth in the nation in passing with 2,683 yards or six fewer than Heisman Trophy hopeful Kyler Murray of Oklahoma. Besides being second in the Big Ten in several categories, he's had five 300-yard passing games this season to bring his career total to 11.
One of those efforts came in last week's road upset of Iowa, as Blough went 23-of-32 for 333 yards and four touchdowns. He did toss two interceptions and has five in his last two games but also has five games with at least three TD passes. He'll look to add to his season totals against a Minnesota defense that's last in the Big Ten by allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete 65 percent of their passes.
2. Purdue O vs. Minnesota D
While Blough is the engine of a Purdue offense that’s seventh in the nation at 330.3 passing yards per game, the Boilermakers are far from being a one-dimensional attack.
Led by D.J. Knox, Purdue is averaging 156 rushing yards per game The Boilermakers have piled up as many as 341 yards on the ground in a game this season (vs. Eastern Michigan) and also used their running game to put the exclamation point on their upset of the Buckeyes back on Oct. 20.
This doesn't bode well for a Minnesota defense that has struggled to stop the run. Last week, Illinois chewed up the Golden Gophers for 430 rushing yards and five touchdowns alone. It was the third time in four games that the Gophers gave up 500-plus yards and the six straight Big Ten contest this season in which they surrendered at least 30 points.
That resulted in Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck firing defensive coordinator Robb Smith following the 55-31 loss to the Fighting Illini. Defensive line coach Joe Rossi will be in the interim, but it will likely be another tough outing for the Gophers' defense trying to slow down a Purdue offense that's averaging 36 points per game against conference teams.
As Fleck said to reporters earlier this week, "Purdue is a good football team. Explosive players everywhere... Weapons all around. They have explosive playmakers on the outside, great running game, experienced backs, offensive line..."
Rossi and his players clearly have their work cut out for them.
3. Fresh-faced stars
Each team boasts a pair of star-studded freshman receivers in Minnesota's Rashod Bateman and Purdue's Rondale Moore. Bateman has already established a school-record for receptions by a freshman, as his 42 through nine games surpassed the previous mark of 38 set by Ron Johnson in 1998. Bateman's 578 receiving yards are the second highest by a first-year player at Minnesota. He needs just 77 yards against the Boilermakers to pass Ernie Wheelright's 2004 record of 654 yards, and his six touchdown catches leave him one behind Wheelright for that mark as well.
Bateman has combined with junior Tyler Johnson (57 receptions, 875 yards, 8 TDs) to give the Gophers one of the most explosive pass-catching tandems in the Big Ten.
Meanwhile, Moore is in the running for the Big Ten's Thompson–Randle El Freshman of the Year award and has already been named a finalist for the Paul Hornung Award, which is given to college football's most versatile player.
Moore has 1,537 all-purpose yards, the most in the conference and third in the entire FBS. Moore leads the Big Ten in receptions (74), is second in receiving yards (833), and tied for fifth with seven TD catches. He's also scored a rushing touchdown, is averaging 14.6 yards per carry and another 19.1 on kickoff returns.
Blough said of the freshman phenom, "I would go to the extent that he’s that good where even when he’s covered, he’s open. Teams will double team him, teams will spy him, cover him up in different ways than they’ve shown to do to any other receiver... It shows the respect they have for him.”
Things are definitely going in the wrong direction for Minnesota right now. Bowl eligibility seems to be an uphill climb as the Gophers have not been able to stop many teams from moving the ball. The change at defensive coordinator isn't likely to change their defensive fortunes anytime soon either.
Additionally, Minnesota has turned the ball over 17 times in six Big Ten games, more than any other team in the conference. Plus they're banged up on both sides of the ball.
Enter Purdue, one of the nation's most explosive offenses and a team that has pulled off big wins and still has a realistic shot at winning the Big Ten West title. This is just one of those games where it doesn't look good on paper for the home side.
The Gophers may catch a break with the conditions, but even if the freezing temperatures slow down the Boilermakers' offense, they should be able to make more than enough plays to get the job done.