Game Recap: Gophers Hold off Purdue, Improve to 4-0
The Minnesota Golden Gophers remain undefeated after beating the Purdue Boilermakers 38-31 on the road.
An explosive offense lead by quarterback Tanner Morgan helped Minnesota improve to 4-0 and 1-0 in conference play on Saturday. Morgan had a phenomenal day throwing for 396 yards and four touchdowns. And not only that, he completed 21 of his 22 passes, which amounts to a 95.5 completion percentage. That is the highest completion percentage ever in any game by a Big Ten player.
On the receiving end of things, Tyler Johnson, Rashod Bateman and Chris Autman-Bell accumulated for 17 of Morgan's 21 completed passes. Bateman lead all in receiving with 177 yards and two touchdowns. Both Johnson and Autman-Bell had one touchdown.
The passing game has definitely been a weak point for the Gophers in recent years, but it really clicked on Saturday. Minnesota was very successful on running the run/pass option against the Boilermakers. Morgan read the defense perfectly on these plays, finding Autman-Bell, Johnson and Bateman wide open on perfectly executed slant routes that lead to long touchdowns. It was something of pure beauty.
The Gophers also got help in the running game. Rodney Smith rushed for 115 yards on 22 carries with one touchdown. Smith was utilized perfectly to extend drives by getting descent yardage per carry (5.2), getting first downs and running out the clock. Shannon Brooks made his season debut, but only rushed for a total of five yards on five carries. I am sure it will be a few weeks for Brooks to get into a rhythm again being he has been out for almost a year.
Despite the close score, Minnesota, at one point, looked like they were going to run away with it. They were leading 28-10 at the half, and they were even up 38-17 with about six minutes to go in the fourth quarter. But a late surge by Purdue made this game interesting and certainly made me nervous.
A beautiful, 47-yard touchdown pass to Bateman with about six minutes left in the third quarter was the Gophers last score. This allowed Purdue to get right back in the game.
After Purdue running back, King Doerue scored from two yards out to bring the game to within two touchdowns with six minutes left, the Boilermakers went for the on-side kick and succeeded. The ball took an awful bounce on the Gopher player, allowing for Purdue to snag it. Purdue then went down within two minutes and punched it in again with just under four to go.
At this point in the game, I was saying to my self "Typical Gophers! They are going to blow this lead and lose! Would not surprise me one bit!" They always get your hopes up and they get crushed within the blink of an eye.
But I will be darned! They pulled it off. Thanks to key first down conversions and a pass interference call against Purdue, the Gophers managed to burn the final four minutes to win the game.
One of the top concerns heading into the game was definitely the offensive line, and coming out of the game it might still be the O-line in some aspects, but the defense completely broke down in the last quarter after such a strong start.
The Minnesota defense gave up back-to-back touchdowns and allowed over 150 yards in the fourth quarter alone. We saw a bit of this inconsistency out of the defense in the first three games, but it really showed Saturday.
If the Gophers want to continue to win and compete for the West, their defense needs to play 60 minutes and play more consistent. They cannot always rely on having a 21 point lead in the fourth quarter like they did against Purdue. They will need to pull out close games and hold tight leads, and to do so, their defense will need to step up and make key stops. That was definitely lacking on Saturday in the final quarter.
Concerns aside, the Gophers played a hell of a game. They are now 4-0 overall and 1-0 in conference play and take on a struggling Illinois squad next week at home. Oh boy! 5-0 bound? We will have to see!
Row the boat, Ski-U-Mah, Go Gophers!