Purdue at Minnesota, Sept. 22 — The intensity and pressure always jumps several notches when Big Ten play begins. It will be a big adjustment for a Gophers team that is playing eight true freshmen. Purdue's high-powered offense should light up the scoreboard. The Gophers' only hope is to keep the ball away from Purdue with sustained drives on offense.
Purdue is averaging a little less than 50 points per game, and the Gophers are 104th in the country, allowing more than 36 points a game. If you like betting, take the over.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Gophers committed seven turnovers against Florida Atlantic, which was half their season total (14) in 2006. Redshirt freshman quarterback Adam Weber threw four interceptions, and the team had three fumbles. The Gophers can't be careless with the ball this week. They need sustained drives to keep Purdue's explosive offense off the field.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Gophers might be in for a long game. Purdue leads the Big Ten in passing, scoring and total offense. The Gophers rank last in the Big Ten in pass defense, scoring defense and total defense. Enough said.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Adam Weber threw four interceptions in his first career road game last week. How will he respond? Purdue's talent on defense will be better than anything Weber has seen so far.
WR Eric Decker continues to emerge as a big-play receiver. The sophomore caught a career-high 12 passes for 165 yards and one touchdown last week.
SS Dom Barber will be at the center of the storm. The senior needs to be a calming influence in Minnesota's young secondary against Purdue's wide-open attack. Purdue leads the Big Ten in passing, which will be a huge test for the Gophers, who start two true freshmen — safety Curtis Thomas and cornerback Ryan Collado — in the secondary.
ROSTER REPORT: Tight end Jack Simmons will play against Purdue after missing two-plus games because of a toe injury. Right guard D.J. Burris will not play because of a left leg injury. He will be replaced by sophomore Ryan Ruckdashel. It looks as if senior cornerback Desi Steib will earn his starting job back from true freshman Ryan Collado. Junior Joel Monroe has taken over placekicking duties from Jason Giannini. Monroe made all four extra-point attempts and a 21-yard field goal last week.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "If you can't get jacked up for Big Ten football, you shouldn't be out there. I'm sure some young guys will be a little bit wide-eyed. But this is the Big Ten season, so you have to be able to perform." — Senior linebacker John Shevlin on the start of the Big Ten season.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Purdue's biggest problem right now is trying to replace the production of starting tailback Jaycen Taylor, who combined with Kory Sheets to give the Boilers a lethal one-two combination. Freshman Dan Dierking gets the first crack, with Sheets moving back into the starter's role and Dierking becoming the top backup. Dierking, a freshman, isn't as talented as Sheets or Taylor, but Joe Tiller likes to have more than one running back in his one-back offense.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: So far, so good, although the real tests are still to come. Minnesota isn't one of them. The Gophers are still running the ball effectively with Amir Pinnix, but they're struggling in all facets of the game this year. Purdue is sixth in the conference and 24th in the country, allowing a little more than 17 points per game. If those numbers continue, the Boilers will make some noise in the Big Ten.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Curtis Painter — His 952 passing yards are tops in the Big Ten, as are his 13 touchdowns. He should have no trouble picking apart a struggling Minnesota defense.
RB Kory Sheets — With Jaycen Taylor out nursing a broken arm, Sheets becomes the focal point of the running game. He was the starter for most of last year, now he's back in the role again. It's time for him to produce.
WR Dorien Bryant — His 20 catches rank second in the Big Ten, but surprisingly, he has just one touchdown catch. That will change dramatically, perhaps as soon as this week.
ROSTER REPORT: RB Jaycen Taylor will miss the rest of the season because of a broken arm. Kory Sheets becomes the starter again in his absence. With Sheets moving into a starting role, freshman Dan Dierking becomes the second wheel in Purdue's running attack. Coach Joe Tiller has been adamant about wanting to use two tailbacks to lighten the load on the starter.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I would say our turnovers are the biggest thing we need to work on in practice. Our turnovers allowed (Central Michigan) back into the game. If we would have held on to the ball better, the score would've been a lot different. We'll work on that this upcoming week, and hopefully the number of turnovers will go down tremendously next week." — Coach Joe Tiller.
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