The Purdue Boilermakers head to Minneapolis on Friday to take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers. It will be Minnesota's (1-3) second straight game on a Friday, and they'll be hoping for a better outcome than the 35-7 loss they suffered to Iowa a week ago. Something is not right with P.J. Fleck's club this season, and nobody could have predicted that this team would struggle the way that it has through the first four games of 2020.
Purdue (2-1) also is coming off a loss — albeit their first of the season — to undefeated Northwestern. The Boilermakers will need to quickly put that loss behind them and focus on getting a road win in order to keep pace with Northwestern and Wisconsin in the Big Ten West.
Purdue at Minnesota
Kickoff: Friday, Nov. 20 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Purdue -3
When Purdue Has the Ball
The Boilermakers bring a solid passing attack to the table this season. Quarterback Aidan O'Connell is completing 64.7 percent of his passes so far in 2020 for more than 300 yards per game and seven touchdowns. His favorite target so far has been David Bell, who has 31 catches for 321 yards and four touchdowns on the young season. That combination is the bread and butter of head coach Jeff Brohm's offense. The Boilermakers do like to run the ball between the 20s when possible. When they do, Zander Horvath is the workhorse in that department, averaging 4.8 yards per carry. Ideally, Brohm wants O'Connell and the passing attack to get the Boilermakers the early lead and then control the tempo with a healthy dose of Horvath. From what we've seen out of the Minnesota defense this season, there's no reason that shouldn't be the plan on Friday night.
When Minnesota Has the Ball
Running back Mohamed Ibrahim has been the only bright spot for the Gophers this season. He has nearly twice as many rushing yards (715) as anyone else in the Big Ten (Tyler Goodson, 375), and his 10 rushing touchdowns tie him for seventh nationally, but he needs help. He was kept out of the end zone last week against Iowa, and Minnesota had no other answers in terms of trying to get points on the board. Rashod Bateman — arguably the most talented receiver in the Big Ten – has more than half of the team's receptions, which makes things a little too predictable. Head coach P.J. Fleck needs someone else to step up as a dependable playmaker on offense. Look for the Gophers to come out early trying to establish the run with Ibrahim before mixing it up in the passing game. Ideally, the Minnesota tight ends can be more involved and give quarterback Tanner Morgan some easy targets and completions, as he has struggled to find any rhythm this season. Morgan is completing less than 58 percent of his passes with as many touchdowns as interceptions (four each) and is averaging 192 yards per game through the air.
Minnesota has the talent at the skill positions to compete with anyone in the Big Ten West. Their problems seem to stem from a lack of both timing and adequate play in the trenches on both sides of the ball. Ideally, Purdue would be the type of game where the Gophers could work out the kinks and get right for the rest of the year. The problem is, these Boilermakers are one score away from being 3-0, and believe that they still have a shot at winning the division. Motivation is still on Purdue's side in this one. I believe you'll see a conservative game plan from head coach Jeff Brohm, knowing that Minnesota is pressing. I see Purdue sticking to what it does best, not getting too crazy, and waiting for Minnesota to make the type of mistakes that lose football games. Look for Boilermakers running back Zander Horvath to turn in his best performance of the season en route to a sound road win.
Prediction: Purdue 30, Minnesota 20
Podcast: Week 12 Preview and Predictions
— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo!, SBNation, USA Today and Bleacher Report. He is a three-time FWAA writing contest award winner. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.
(Zander Horvath photo courtesy of @BoilerFootball)