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Purdue vs. Minnesota Prediction: Undefeated Golden Gophers Look to Keep Rolling at Home Against Banged-Up Boilermakers

Ranked Gophers look for fifth straight win over their Big Ten West rivals.

The Purdue Boilermakers are set to travel to Huntington Bank Stadium to take on their long-time Big Ten rival Minnesota on Saturday. The stakes are high for both teams, as a win will help in the ongoing West Division race.

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Even though Purdue is 2-2, the Boilermakers have an opportunity to be a factor in the division, but the margin for error is small after opening the season with a 35-31 home loss to Penn State. Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm recognizes the challenges of going on the road to face a Minnesota that is currently undefeated and ranked in the polls.

"We understand this is a tough matchup," Brohm said earlier this week. "We're going to have to do a lot of things right. We're going to have to find ways to get scores and take advantage of possessions, get some stops on defense, and once again, the key is can we find a way to get a lead and take them out of what they really want to do. That will be important."

Meanwhile, the Golden Gophers have inserted themselves into the forefront of the conversation with their 4-0 start and following an impressive 34-7 win at Michigan State last Saturday. Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck now not only has to deal with the increased talk about his team being a viable Big Ten championship contender, but he also needs to make sure his players don't get complacent.

Earlier this week, Fleck commented about his team being ranked. “We have a lot of guys who have had that happen before, and they’ve been there. ... They understand how the external message will get louder, but the internal message has to be the loudest."

The Gophers also have momentum in their head-to-head series with the Boilermakers, posting four straight wins overall and having won the last six meetings in Minneapolis.

Purdue at No. 21 Minnesota

Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 1 at 12 p.m. ET
TV: ESPN2
Live Stream: fuboTV (Start your free trial)
Spread: Minnesota -12.5
Tickets: As low as $86 on SITickets.com

When Purdue Has the Ball

The quarterback spot is presently shrouded in mystery, as starter Aidan O'Connell did not play in the Boilermakers' 28-26 win over Florida Atlantic last weekend. If O'Connell isn't able to take the field on Saturday, it will impact Purdue's offensive outlook substantially.

Backup Austin Burton did his job filling in for O'Connell, completing 21 of 29 passes for 166 yards, three touchdowns, and an interception. But O'Connell leads the Big Ten and is fourth nationally in passing (333.3 yards per game) and has eight touchdowns compared to just one pick. This could end up being a game-time decision for Brohm.

Whoever gets the call, they have the benefit of throwing to wide receiver Charlies Jones, the nation's leading receiver with 41 catches. The Iowa transfer's seven touchdown catches are tied for No. 1, and he leads the Big Ten (by a wide margin) and is third overall with 533 yards. Considering the Boilermakers are 11th in the conference in rushing offense (135.5 ypg), it's pretty clear how Minnesota will focus its defensive efforts.

And stopping teams is something the Golden Gophers have been very good at in the early going. Minnesota is No. 1 in the nation in total defense, giving up 187.8 yards per game although some additional context is needed. The Gophers' first four opponents have been New Mexico State, FCS Western Illinois, Colorado, and Michigan State. None of these teams are offensive juggernauts, but credit to Minnesota for taking full advantage of its schedule. The defense has recorded more interceptions (four) than touchdown passes (three) allowed and is surrendering 126 yards per game through the air. But regardless of whether it's O'Connell or Burton under center, this part of the Gopher defense figures to be tested on Saturday.

When Minnesota Has the Ball

It's been a balanced attack for the Golden Gophers thus far, averaging 295 rushing yards per game, which ranks second in the nation, and 249 through the air. The return of offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca has already paid strong dividends.

Running back Mohamed Ibrahim has certainly benefitted. The workhorse (89 att.) is second in the nation in rushing with 567 yards and has already scored eight times on the ground. He will provide a stern test for a Purdue defense that is giving up 116 rushing yards per game and has done a good job of limiting big gains on the ground, surrendering just 10 runs of 10-plus yards so far. On the flip side, Ibrahim has nearly twice as many of those (19) by himself and Minnesota leads the country with 41 total.

Quarterback Tanner Morgan also is off to a strong start. He's completing 77.2 percent of his passes for 866 yards, seven touchdowns, and only one interception. This after finishing with nearly as many picks (nine) as touchdowns (10) in 13 games last season. Morgan was especially sharp last week against Michigan State (23-of-26, 268 yds., 3 TDs) even though he was missing No. 1 wide receiver Chris Autman-Bell, who is out for the rest of the season with a lower leg injury.

Brohm was very complimentary of the Gophers' signal-caller earlier this week. "He's very smart," he said. "He can throw an accurate football. He knows how to run their offense, which is let’s be big and physical in the run game and run them against the looks that we can over and over again, and then when they start to cheat and try to play the pass, they have enough run pass RPO options and enough play actions off of it that it allows him time to make throws."

Final Analysis

Purdue comes into this game with its starting quarterback not guaranteed to play and some members of its secondary dealing with injuries. It's not an ideal situation considering the Boilermakers' passing game and defense will be critical to counter Minnesota's prolific rushing attack. The Golden Gophers may have had the benefit of an easier schedule thus far, but that doesn't take away from the offensive balance they have shown or their performance on defense in the early going. Minnesota appears to have too much talent and depth for Purdue to handle in this Big Ten West contest.

Prediction: Minnesota 28, Purdue 17

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— Written by Chip Minnich, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He also is podcasting for Land-Grant Holy Land. Follow him on Twitter @ChipMinnich.