Minnesota wanted to fix its offensive problems. There are few better remedies for doing that than a date with Purdue.
We won’t know for sure if the Gophers have completely cured what ailed them on the offensive side of the ball until a step up in competition comes next weekend against Nebraska or even a week after that against Michigan. But for one week, one of the lowest-scoring teams in college football was able to erupt in a 41-13 throttling of the Boilermakers.
Minnesota entered Saturday averaging 15.4 points per game, the second-lowest mark in the FBS, better only than Hawaii’s 15 points a contest. But the Gophers nearly tripled that average against the Boilermakers, and maybe that shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Prior to allowing 41 points to Minnesota on Saturday, Purdue had already allowed point totals of 51 (Virginia Tech), 41 (Marshall) and 35 (Bowling Green) on the season.
Before things got started, this one perhaps had the makings of a rare Boilermaker win, what with that near upset of Michigan State last week and Minnesota’s inability to score coming in. But those ideas didn’t last long.
Despite Purdue scoring first and Minnesota owning just a 10-6 lead at halftime, the Gophers exploded for four touchdowns in the third quarter. Shannon Brooks sparked the offensive surge with a 71-yard touchdown scamper in the second half’s opening minute. Mitch Leidner followed with a pair of touchdown tosses, and Jalen Myrick returned a David Blough interception 27 yards for a touchdown just 16 seconds after the second Leidner TD throw.
In about 13 minutes, the game went from a four-point Minnesota lead to 32-point Minnesota lead.
While it was all happiness and celebration for those in maroon and gold, the question remains: Is Minnesota good, finally shaking off these offensive doldrums, or is Purdue bad, so bad that the second-lowest scoring team in college football can pour on 41 points?
Logic would tend to say the latter is closer to the truth, what with the big scoring days the Boilermakers had allowed before Saturday. Purdue has been the conference’s doormat for a few seasons now, and Minnesota took advantage of a helpful part of the schedule. After all, you don’t go from 27-0 shutout loss to 41-13 beatdown win without a dramatic swing in the level of competition.
But make no mistake, this was a good day for Minnesota, which really needed a good day. The Gophers topped 400 yards of offense, with an insane 326 yards rushing. The combination of Brooks and Rodney Smith yielded 228 rushing yards, and it’s no surprise that even with Minnesota’s incredible amount of injuries — Jerry Kill said earlier in the week that eight starters would miss Saturday’s game, several on the offensive line — running the ball is still the best way to make this offense go. Heck, even with two touchdown passes, Leidner completed just eight passes for 82 yards and threw an interception. So having him turn around and hand the ball to Brooks and Smith should be the bulk of the offensive game plan for Minnesota the rest of the season.
And the Gophers might really be onto something with Brooks, who on just 37 carries this season is averaging 7.9 yards per attempt and has three touchdowns in three games.
With two losses to its name already, including one in conference play, securing a spot in the Big Ten title game might not be too realistic for Minnesota. As mentioned, even with Saturday’s monstrous offensive output, there are many more games against teams much better than Purdue remaining on the schedule. But a confidence boost is never a bad thing, and this could carry over to a game against reeling Nebraska.
Meanwhile, poor Purdue can’t get anything right, and the social-media chatter about Darrell Hazell’s job security intensified Saturday. Blough, who looked like a solid replacement at quarterback just a couple weeks ago, completed less than 42 percent of his passes in the loss and has now thrown five interceptions in his last three games, including three Saturday.