Big Plays Key For Gophers

The Gophers' 10-0 deficit Saturday was overcome by an opportunistic attitude and big plays. They hope that can instill confidence for a tough two games on the road.

For a while, Minnesota's worst fears were realized.

Purdue drove down the field on its first two series Saturday and went up 10-0. An emotionally spent Gophers team was coming off a heartbreaking loss against rival Wisconsin, and a hungry Boilermakers team was seeking its first win in five games.

But Minnesota's will to get a victory prevailed against Purdue's drive to end its losing streak. Purdue's three turnovers and special team miscues, problems for the Boilermakers all season, hurt them all afternoon.

The Gophers defense made big plays out of Purdue's problems and punched in a 35-20 victory Saturday over a deceptively skilled 1-5 Boilermakers squad that had lost four in a row by a combined 18 points against a slate off opponents that included nationally ranked Oregon and Notre Dame. Minnesota's running game made the Boilermakers pay for their mistakes.

The Gophers (4-2, 2-1 Big Ten) scored on a blocked field goal — Traye Simmons returned it 47 yards for a touchdown — and after an interception and a recovered fumble. Minnesota's offense rushed for 207 yards and still hasn't produced a 100-yard running back.

Now, the Gophers can head into back-to-back road games against Penn State and Ohio State knowing that they've got the capability to make big plays. They'll need plenty of them to pull off an upset against the Nittany Lions or Buckeyes.

A loss Saturday could have doomed the Gophers mentally before their road trips and had the potential to ruin the rest of their year.

"Obviously, when you block a field goal for a touchdown, special teams plays a big role in that," Minnesota coach Tim Brewster said. "Again, we were very opportunistic. We did a good job converting situations where (Purdue) gave us some really good field position. When you run the ball successfully, good things are going to happen. We talked to our team about eliminating the self-inflicted wounds. I thought they did a really good job. The biggest thing is our team responded in a big-time way coming off of a tough loss last week. Again, that was the challenge to our football team to come back and respond properly on homecoming. I thought they did a great job."

NOTES

  • Although Duane Bennett and DeLeon Eskridge had most of the carries entering Saturday's game, redshirt freshman Kevin Whaley, who missed part of last season after suffering a gunshot wound in a drive-by shooting, was the one who shined. He's arguably the fastest player on the team, and he's also one of its top playmakers. He ran for 79 yards on eight carries and a touchdown.

  • For the second time in three seasons under Tim Brewster, the Gophers finished a game with more rushing yards (207) than passing yards (74).

  • Potential All-America WR Eric Decker was held in check for the first time all season against Purdue, which entered Saturday's game with one of the league's worst pass defenses. Decker finished with just three catches for 50 yards.

    LOOKING GOOD: Minnesota's linebackers continue to carry the load defensively. They helped limit Purdue's Ralph Bolden, the Big Ten's No. 2 rusher entering Saturday's game, to just 58 yards and no touchdowns. The Gophers had been one of the worst running unit's in the Big Ten, but Saturday's 207-yard effort proved that they have some juice in the backfield. Kevin Whaley may have solidified himself as the team's No. 1 tailback.

    STILL NEEDS WORK: Adam Weber continues to have problems in the new pro style offense. He faced one of the worst pass defenses in the Big Ten and only came away with 74 passing yards and a pair of interceptions. Purdue QB Joey Elliott looked like a running back at times because Minnesota's defensive line didn't do enough to pressure him. And the Gophers secondary gave up 299 yards. Elliott was sacked twice.

    GAME BALL GOES TO: LB Lee Campbell — Purdue was having a lot of offensive success before Campbell intercepted Joey Elliott's second-quarter pass and returned it 32 yards to set up a Gophers touchdown. That score gave Minnesota a 14-13 lead at halftime. The senior also led the Gophers with 11 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss.

    KEEP AN EYE ON: LB Keanon Cooper — The redshirt freshman played like a veteran Saturday, finishing with 10 tackles and a sack after replacing starter Nate Triplett in the first half.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "He's very elusive. He's not the biggest guy in the world; Duane Bennett kind of brings the load. Kevin's very, very quick, he gets in the hole, and he's got a great knack for reading blocking schemes. If you get him out on the edge, he's hard to stop." — QB Adam Weber, on RB Kevin Whaley.

    ROSTER REPORT

  • A week after C Jeff Tow-Arnett suffered a season-ending leg fracture, C Trey Davis, his replacement, sprained an ankle and had to leave Saturday's game. D.J. Burris replaced him.

  • For the second week in a row, LB Nate Triplett suffered a shoulder stinger and had to leave Saturday's game in the first half. Redshirt freshman Keanon Cooper replaced him and finished with 10 tackles.

  • Minnesota standout prep QB J.D. Pride of Totino-Grace High School in Fridley, Minn., committed to the Gophers on Saturday.



  • Gopher Illustrated Top Stories