Short on time to right ship, Minnesota faces Purdue
P.J. Fleck’s long-time motto has been “Row the Boat.” The Minnesota coach can’t seem to keep the 2020 Golden Gophers from hitting icebergs.
The latest one came last week, when Minnesota followed up its first win of the year with a clunker in a 35-7 home loss to Iowa. With a trip to Wisconsin coming up in two weeks, the Gophers (1-3, 1-3 Big Ten) could use a victory Friday night against visiting Purdue to have a chance at salvaging something from their shortened season.
Nothing went right for Minnesota against the Hawkeyes. From a run defense that coughed up 235 yards to an offense that managed just a garbage-time touchdown, there was plenty to ponder. A pair of turnovers and eight penalties for 85 yards didn’t help, either.
“We had more penalties than we have. That’s not like us, and that falls 100 percent on me,” Fleck said. “We were behind the chains more than we usually are, which affects the play-calling. We had two 10-minute drives that come away with no points, and If I were to have told you that, you’d think I’m crazy. … It was really poor on my part.”
It’s a 180-degree turnaround from last year, when Minnesota won 11 games and beat Auburn in the Outback Bowl. That team won close games because it frequently made big plays and didn’t make mistakes. This team hasn’t quite exhibited that attention to detail.
Nor has it shown the ability to consistently stop offenses not named Illinois. The Iowa loss marked the third time in four games that the Gophers permitted at least 35 points. And giving up 49 points to 1-3 Michigan in the season opener looks worse by the day.
“A lot of guys have not been in this position before,” Minnesota fifth-year senior defensive back Coney Durr said.
Purdue (2-1, 2-1) could have been in a different position, too. Had the Boilermakers stopped Northwestern at home last week in a matchup of then-unbeatens, they probably would have been a Top 25 team. Instead, they became too one-dimensional offensively during a 27-20 loss.
Quarterback Aidan O’Connell threw for 263 yards and two touchdowns while Zander Horvath caught nine passes for 100 yards. The problem was that Purdue’s ground game managed just 2 yards on 17 attempts, Horvath gaining only 21 after hitting the 100 mark in wins over Iowa and Illinois.
“I think I probably got off the running game a little too soon,” Boilermakers coach Jeff Brohm said. “We were just being stalemated there early on, and I felt like we needed to be aggressive and score points.
“And I think we’ll work hard this week to get better and we’ll do some different things to make sure that we have a base of what we’re doing but a plethora of things that we can do to help our O-line play efficient and well.”
If Purdue can establish Horvath between the tackles early, sophomore wide receiver David Bell should be able to hurt Minnesota down the field. Bell had nine catches last week, but for just 78 yards. Northwestern’s defense was very physical with Bell.
The Boilermakers are still hoping that sophomore standout Rondale Moore will return to provide O’Connell with another big target. Moore has missed the first three games due to a lower-body injury.
–Field Level Media