Before each Minnesota football game, GopherIllustrated will ask five questions of an opposing beat writer. This week, we spoke with Purdue beat writer Travis Miller of HammerAndRails.com (West Lafayette, Indiana) to preview the Gophers' Week 10 home game against the Purdue Boilermakers.
1) Purdue has had quite the interesting season so far as they fired Darrell Hazell mid-season, but then the Boilermakers seemed to be the upward swing after that with a good showing against Nebraska. Then Purdue gets boat-raced at home against Penn State. What's going wrong with this Purdue team right now, and where is this team at mentally?
TM: Well, against Penn State they were tied 17-17 and came within about a half inch of leading 24-17 at the break, but Markell Jones was ruled to have stepped out of bounds on a lengthy TD. Purdue was forced into a field goal it attempt it missed, threw an interception on the third play of the second half, and got absolutely blasted. They had a real chance to do something with a lead and the ball coming out of halftime, but things really turned after the missed field goal.
And that is where they are right now. For a half at least they proved they could not only play with, but outplay a couple of good teams in Nebraska and Penn State. The second half has been different. The lack of depth, especially on defense, has become apparent and the offense has struggled.
I think this team is in a much better place mentally than they ever were under Hazell. They are at least coming out and starting strong. They are playing hard in the first half and even tackling better. They still have almost no depth. The defensive line is razor thin and has no reserves, basically. Also, turnovers are a major issue. We’re going to have about two per game and Purdue hasn’t been forcing any.
2) Sophomore quarterback David Blough has been absolutely slinging the ball around the yard in his last three games, as he's thrown for over 50 times on average, and he's got a touchdown to interception ratio of 9:3 over that span. How well has Blough been playing of late, and is he the catalyst to this Boilermaker offense?
TM: Blough has been much better and has shown a lot of promise to start. A lot of his yards against Iowa were garbage time passes where Iowa was up big and he was throwing against backups. He did look really good on the first half each of the last two weeks. DeAngelo Yancey has been a solid deep threat, while Cameron Posey has been automatic on third downs.
What Purdue needs now is more of a running game. Markell Jones has been banged up all season and can’t seem to stay on the field. Richie Worship and Brian Lankford-Johnson have had moments, but are also fighting injury. Eventually, Purdue is going to have to run the ball just to have some balance.
3) With as much as Blough is slinging the ball around, no Purdue receiver has more than 30 catches, and there are six with 23 or more. Is his target distribution as even as it seems, and who are a few names to keep an eye on in the passing game?
TM: As I said, Yancey is the deep threat and the big play guy. Posey does everything from the slot and has been a great guy on third downs. Domonique Young was injured against Illinois and is out for the season. Bilal Marshall has been versatile and is running some wildcat stuff. He is a threat to throw, too, because he was a high school quarterback. Tight ends Brycen Hopkins and Cole Herdman have both been top targets as well.
4) On defense, Purdue defenders Evan Panfil and Eddy Wilson are playing well thus far, how would you asses their play, and who are some other names to lookout on defense?
TM: No one is really playing well. Purdue has been missing Jake Replogle, its top defensive player, for a few weeks now and he is questionable at Minnesota. Ja’Whaun Bentley and Markus Bailey are promising players to build on at linebacker, but as I said earlier, there is no depth. The defensive line can’t stop the run and a ridiculously young secondary plays with no consistency. When combined with poor tackling and just atrocious positioning at times I can’t say Purdue does much well. It is one of the worst teams in America at defending the run and is the worst at getting third down stops.
5) What are the keys for Purdue if they're going to beat the Gophers on the road, and what's your score prediction for the Purdue vs. Minnesota game, and why?
TM: Purdue needs to get the run game going. Otherwise, I can see the passing game doing well to start before things level off after the half. That’s easier said than done, however, with a shaky offensive line and all the injuries in the backfield. Purdue also has to find a way to at least slow down the run. Minnesota ran all day on Purdue last year and I expect more of the same. Even against Penn State the Nittany Lions had only 17 rushing yard early in the third quarter, then ran for 240 after I noticed that.
All Minnesota needs to do is keep handing off. Purdue hasn’t proven it can stop the run at all. Minnesota should be fine if it does that.