The Gophers entered last weekend's Wisconsin-Minnesota border battle on a high. A 31-28 loss, Minnesota's sixth straight against the Badgers, killed it. And then, things got worse.
Not only will starting defensive end Cedric McKinley and backup safety Tim Dandridge miss Saturday's Homecoming against Purdue due to suspension, but Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster announced Sunday that Jeff Tow-Arnett will miss the rest of the year with a fractured leg, an injury suffered against the Badgers. That's a big blow to an offensive line that hasn't clicked all year.
Enter Purdue, possibly the nation's best 1-4 team. It's easy to look at the Boilermakers' record, Minnesota's homefield advantage and the fact that the Gophers haven't lost back-to-back games so far this season and assume that the Gophers will win.
Check the stats and you'll see that Purdue has lost four in a row by a combined 18 points. One of those L's was a 38-36 loss at No. 13 Oregon. The same Oregon that whipped Cal 42-3. The same Cal team that topped the Gophers 35-21 weeks ago.
Purdue is probably going to make Saturday's game a shootout. And Adam Weber still doesn't look comfortable in Minnesota's new pro-style, multiple-set offense. Minnesota's running game has been a nonfactor.
The Gophers (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten) might come in expecting an easy win, but Purdue (1-4, 0-2 Big Ten) has a chance to hand them a loss before they take on No. 9 Ohio State and No. 13 Penn State in back-to-back road games.
Boy, does this feel a lot like last season's Northwestern game or what? The Gophers were expected to get an easy win against a Wildcats team missing its starting quarterback. But they lost that game and their next four to finish 7-6.
A loss Saturday might result in a similar backlash.
"I think everything runs in cycles and people get infatuated with certain things at different times in your lives," Brewster said Tuesday. "Again, it goes back to the basic premise of this: You're not going to win football games unless you consistently run the football, unless on defense you can consistently stop the run. And so from that basic premise I think offensive football is it evolves back to that. You've got to be able to run the football with consistency. With physicality. And so I think that's basically the mindset of probably of most coaches."
SERIES HISTORY: Minnesota leads 32-30-3 (last meeting, 2008, 17-6 Minnesota).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Adam Weber has struggled in recent weeks in part because of an offensive line that has been poor in pass protection. But the junior has to start throwing it away in dicey situations as to avoid the sack and costly loss of yards. Eric Decker is playing like the best wide receiver in America. But the team doesn't have an official No. 2 still. Trey Davis steps in for Jeff Tow-Arnett at center, a move that could adversely affect the chemistry of an offensive line that doesn't have a ton of it. Neither Duane Bennett or DeLeon Eskridge have established themselves as Minnesota's best option at running back.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: There has to be a lot of concern with LB Nate Triplett missing practice earlier this week with a shoulder stinger. If he's out or his playing time is stunted, the Gophers will certainly take a huge hit. He's been their best defensive player this season. Minnesota allowed Wisconsin to rush for nearly 300 yards Saturday. A defensive line missing starting end Cedric McKinley will have to plug the gaps against Purdue running back Ralph Bolden, one of the top runners in the country. Marcus Sherels returned to form against Wisconsin after missing a couple of games due to a leg injury.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We have to learn through film, learn from our mistakes and look forward to the next game. We can't look back at this; we have to look to next week. We have a long season still to play. We can still continue and win through the Big Ten, hopefully make a great bowl." — Cornerback Marcus Sherels on getting past Saturday's loss against Wisconsin, according to the Star Tribune.
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Minnesota vs. Purdue, Oct. 10 — It's Homecoming for the Gophers. They'll need all the fan support they can muster after last weekend's loss against Wisconsin. Purdue's lost four straight, but the Boilermakers are no sitting ducks. They've had a lot of turnovers but they have a potent offensive attack. This game will be closer than many expect.
KEYS TO THE GAME: If the Gophers don't want to be embarrassed on Homecoming, their secondary will have to play tough. Joey Elliott is the league's top passer. On offense, Minnesota will need a running back to step up and make an impact.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
LB Nate Triplett — The team's top defensive player is nursing a shoulder stinger. It limited him against the Badgers. If it bothers him, again, it could spell trouble for Minnesota.
QB Adam Weber — He's the leader. He's the orchestrator in a new, challenging offense. It's on him to diversify his options, assuming he gets some more time from his offensive line.
RB DeLeon Eskridge — His head coach talks like he's going to be the go-to guy down the stretch. But he hasn't broken the 100-yard mark in five games this season. He still has a lot to prove.