Purdue has less time than usual to move on from its first loss of the season.
Just six days after falling to Northwestern and dropping to 2-1, the Boilermakers play at Minnesota to take on the Golden Gophers in a rare Friday game tonight. To get a bounce back victory, Purdue will have to vanquish a foe that has had its number in recent years: Minnesota has won six of seven in this series and five in a row in Minneapolis.
The Boilermakers have not won in the Twin Cities since 2007, and Minnesota won the last meeting there, 41-10 in 2018.
“It's huge,” quarterback Aidan O'Connell said of tonight's matchup. “It's going to be a gut-check for our team and we'll see how badly we want to win. Minnesota's going to be ready to play, and a few years ago when we played there, it didn't go so well.”
O'Connell had a difficult game against Northwestern. He threw for a season-low 263 yards and completed 54% of his passes. He was also less than 100% and coach Jeff Brohm announced Wednesday that his playing status against Minnesota would be a game-time decision. Brohm declined to specify what type of injury the former walk-on has.
If O'Connell can't play, redshirt sophomore Jack Plummer would fill in. Plummer played seven games in 2019 before suffering a season-ending ankle injury. He threw for more than 1,600 yards with 11 touchdowns and eight interceptions, including a 420-yard, three-score game against Maryland. He's more mobile than O'Connell, and the offseason battle for the starting job between the two was tight.
The Purdue quarterback, whoever it is, will be facing a Minnesota defense that has been leaky this season. The Golden Gophers are giving up 447 yards per game, 93rd in the country out of 126 teams currently playing.
The subpar defense has hurt a team that went 11-2 last season. The Gophers are 1-3, with their only victory coming against conference doormat Illinois. They were blown out by Iowa 35-7 in their most recent outing.
(They're) probably not where they want to be at this point,” Brohm said of the Golden Gophers. “There's a lot of season left to play. And guys can turn around their season very fast. This will be an away game for us going into an environment we haven't played well at night. And they're going to be hungry and ready to play.
“They'll be well coached, they'll be fired up to play us. We're going to have our work cut out for us.”
Where Minnesota has been good is on offense. The Gophers attack is led by running back Mohamed Ibrahim, one of the nation's top rushers who has surpassed 200 yards twice and 100 yards four times this season, and wide receiver Rashod Bateman, a likely future first-round draft pick who has 32 catches for 413 yards.
“We have to stop the run,” Purdue safety Brennan Thieneman said. “We know we're going to do that and then Bateman's a good player. The back end, the (defensive backs) are going to have to do a good job of shutting him down and limiting any big plays from him. That's our overall goal going into this game.”
Purdue would get a boost on defense if sophomore defensive end George Karlaftis returns. The 2019 freshman All-American was injured against Illinois and sat out against Northwestern despite being dressed and on the sidelines. Brohm said he did everything he could to play, but it was simply too soon for him to return.
The Boilermakers are also still being cagey about the availability of All-American wide receiver Rondale Moore, who has missed the first three games for undisclosed reasons. Brohm hinted that there some key players could return this week but did not get into specifics.
“I'm optimistic we'll get some guys back this week,” Brohm said Wednesday. “We'll see how it goes come game time, but I'm optimistic we'll get some guys back.”
Purdue at Minnesota
When: 7:30 p.m. today
Where: TCF Bank Stadium, Minneapolis
Records: Purdue (2-1), Minnesota (1-3)
TV: Big Ten Network
Radio: 1190 AM, 100.9 FM
Establishing the run: The Purdue run game was dismal against Northwestern, rushing 17 times for a grand total of 2 yards. There's no better team against which to get better than Minnesota, which is dead last in the country in opponent yards per carry at 7.2. Purdue running back Zander Horvath has two 100-yard performances this season and King Doerue, last season's leading rusher, saw his first action against the Wildcats after missing the first two games of the season.
No love lost: After Purdue lost big to Minnesota in 2018, linebacker Derrick Barnes said that if the Boilers played well they could have "blown (Minnesota) out of the water." Gophers coach P.J. Fleck distributed a copy of a story in which that quote appeared to all of his players leading up to the 2019 game, which Minnesota won 38-31. After the game, his handshake with Purdue coach Jeff Brohm was noticeably brief.
A step back: Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan was second-team All-Big Ten last season as he averaged 10.2 yards per attempt and threw for 30 touchdowns against seven interceptions. This year, behind a patchwork offensive line, he is averaging 7.3 yards per pass and has four touchdowns and four picks. His completion percentage has dropped from 66% to 57.5%.
Prediction: Purdue 29, Minnesota 16