Inside Slant: Minnesota vs. Purdue

Philip Nelson didn't lead the Gophers to a win in his collegiate debut against Wisconsin, but he didn't look like a true freshman either. Nelson completed 13-of-24 passes for 149 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in the 38-13 loss. While Nelson isn't MarQueis Gray when it comes to pulling down the ball and running, he picked up 67 yards on 16 carries.

Coach Jerry Kill, who made the surprise decision to burn Nelson's redshirt year and move him into the starter's spot with Gray still nursing a sprained left ankle, liked what he saw last week. Nelson will start again in Saturday's home game against Purdue. The plan, at least for now, is for Nelson to start the last five games of the season.

"When he throws an interception or something like that, he's ticked off," Kill said in the St. Paul Pioneer-Press. "But he gets over there, and he talks to the receiver. That's not a freshman. It's not like he's apologizing for something. He wants to know what he needs to do to get it fixed."

It appears Gray is going to get most of the playing time in the final five games of his career at wide receiver. Kill said he will occasionally take snaps at quarterback for a change of pace, but Nelson will see the bulk of the action there. Gray played receiver in his first two seasons before moving to quarterback last season. He sprained his ankle against Western Michigan and missed two games, both started by sophomore Max Shortell.

Shortell started again against Northwestern, but took a shot to the head and was replaced by Gray. Shortell came back into the game after Gray re-injured the ankle. Kill and the coaching staff spent last week getting Nelson ready to start against Wisconsin.

Nelson credits Gray for helping him through the transition.

"Even though I'm the quarterback, MarQueis is still a tremendous leader," Nelson said in the Pioneer-Press. "I look up to him. He helps out a lot with me, actually. I'm really lucky to have a receiver like that to throw to and help me ease into this."

Minnesota has lost three straight after starting the season with a 4-0 record.

"We've got to find a way to rally the wagons here a little bit," Kill said. "We need to find a way to get into a bowl game."

After not recording a sack in the last two games, the Gophers recorded sacks on two plays during the same drive in the second quarter against Wisconsin. It's no surprise D.L. Wilhite and Ra'shede Hageman had the sacks. Wilhite leads the team in tackles for a loss of yardage with eight, including five sacks. Hageman has 5.5 tackles for a loss, including four sacks.

All three of Minnesota's losses this season Iowa, Northwestern and Wisconsin have come against teams that played in bowl games in 2011. That's not good news considering all five remaining opponents Purdue, Michigan, Illinois, Michigan State and Nebraska appeared in bowls last season. Illinois is struggling this season with a 2-5 overall record and 0-3 in the league.

SERIES HISTORY: Minnesota leads Purdue 33-32-3 (last meeting, 2011, 45-17 Purdue)

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Philip Nelson will start for the second straight week at quarterback. The redshirt freshman held up well in his first career start against Wisconsin. He completed 13-of-24 passes for 149 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Nelson also showed he can get out of the pocket and run, gaining 68 yards on 16 carries. Running back Donnell Kirkwood, slowed by an ankle injury, needs to regain his top form. He was limited to five carries and gained eight yards against Wisconsin. Receivers Marcus Jones, Devin Crawford-Tufts and Isaac Fruechte have also been banged up, which has hurt the passing game. MarQueis Gray, who has had a sprained left ankle, will also play receiver.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Can anyone in a Minnesota uniform stop the running game? The last three weeks have been a mismatch at the line of scrimmage as the Gophers have been pushed all over the field. The defense has allowed 727 yards rushing in the Gophers' three-game losing streak, including 337 against Wisconsin. Four backs have rushed for at least 171 in this span Iowa's Mark Weisman (177), Northwestern's Venric Mark (193) and Wisconsin's Montee Ball (171) and James White (175). It's reached the point that even teams who prefer to pass will run the ball against the Gophers.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "There are some good things going on here. You've just got to really look hard at it right now." Minnesota coach Jerry Kill in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, on the Gophers' three-game losing streak.

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Purdue at Minnesota, Oct. 27 Both teams are 0-3 in the Big Ten. The Gophers are the only winless team in the Legends Division while Purdue is one of three teams without a win in the Leaders Division.

KEYS TO THE GAME: It sounds simple, but it hasn't happened the last three weeks. The Gophers need to put together an all-around team game. Minnesota has been completely outplayed in all three Big Ten games, and has been outscored 90-39. The Gophers have been held to 13 points in each conference game. Minnesota might be catching Purdue at the right time. The Boilermakers lost 29-22 to Ohio State in overtime last week.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

WR A.J. Barker A redshirt junior, Barker leads the Gophers with 25 catches for 442 yards, a 17.7 average. He also has the team lead with five touchdown catches.

S Derrick Wells The sophomore leads the team in several categories: tackles (45), solo stops (29), interceptions (two), passes broken up (eight) and passes defended (10). Wells had eight tackles against Wisconsin despite making practice all week because of a laceration on his knee. He needed stitches following the game and his status for the Purdue game is uncertain.

LB Mike Rallis Despite playing with a sore ankle, the senior is second on the team with 41 tackles. Rallis also has 2.5 tackles for a loss of six yards.

ROSTER REPORT

OT Marek Lenkiewicz started in place of Ed Olson at left tackle against Wisconsin. Olson was out with an ankle injury that occurred against Northwestern.

G Tommy Olson, Ed's brother, has missed the last three games with an ankle injury.

OL Zach Mottla, who missed two games because of an ankle injury, started at center against Wisconsin. Zac Epping, who usually starts at center, moved to left guard because of a hand injury.

WRs Devin Crawford-Tufts and Isaac Fruechte missed the Wisconsin game with concussions. They're both questionable this week.

CB Martez Shabazz, who missed four games because of a dislocated toe, played against Wisconsin and had two tackles.

DT Cameron Botticelli started against Wisconsin after missing the Northwestern game with an elbow injury.

WR Jamel Harbison tore the ACL in his right knee against UNLV and is out for the season.


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