When: Sat. Nov. 5, 2016; 3:30 pm ET
Where: Minneapolis, MN; TCF Bank Stadium (50,805)
All-Time Series: Minnesota leads 36-32-3
Last Meeting: Minnesota 41-13 win, in 2015
Line: Minnesota (-17)
The schedule is about to heat up for the Gophers, who sit at 3-2 in the conference and could very well be tied for the West Division lead with a victory this weekend. Before reaching that closing stretch of Nebraska, Northwestern, and Wisconsin, a game against the Boilermakers awaits QB Mitch Leidner and his team. If those latter games are to matter in the grand scheme of the Big Ten race, the Gophers must continue to take care of business in a similar fashion as the past two weeks against Rutgers and Illinois. Well, maybe in a better fashion than the close call against Rutgers, but we digress…
Purdue played better initially under interim head coach Gerad Parker, but his team fell apart once again in the second half against Penn State last week. While the Boilermakers have played some good football at times in 2016, these lapses that occur for half a game at times just simply eliminate the chance to win. It will be interesting to see if Minnesota can pounce on such an opportunity, just like Iowa and Penn State have in recent games against the Boilermakers. Purdue is also playing for possible bowl-eligibility in this one, with three wins needed in the final four weeks of the season to reach 6-6.
This matchup also features two quarterbacks that fly a bit under the radar, yet both seem to have effective passing numbers. Will Mitch Leidner or David Blough have the better of this game? It’s hard to tell. Let’s take a deeper dive into the numbers to see which of these West Division teams will get an important win for moving the program and season forward on Saturday afternoon.
1 Burning Question: Can Purdue effectively stop the Minnesota running backs?
The Minnesota ground game is led by Rodney Smith (100 yards per game) and Shannon Brooks (79 yards per game), with these two players contributing 15 touchdowns on the ground so far in 8 games. With multiple options in the backfield, and a quarterback Mitch Leidner who can throw the ball efficiently at times, it can be difficult to wear down or stop the Minnesota offense from putting together long drives.
Purdue is surrendering 250 rushing yards per game, which is better than only Rutgers in the B1G. Against similar offensive fronts like Iowa three weeks ago and Penn State last week, Purdue has been gashed for a ton of yards and big plays. One would expect that Tracy Claeys and the Minnesota offensive coaches will be ready to exploit this apparent weakness with heavy doses of both star running backs.
The impetus will be on Purdue, and specifically the defensive line, to stop these rushing attempts. If that does not happen, the Boilermakers could be in for another blowout defeat going away in Minneapolis.
2 Key Stats:
— +10, and -12. That’s the turnover margin for Minnesota (tied for 1st in B1G) and the turnover margin for Purdue (14th in B1G) in 2016, respectively. A huge factor in why Purdue struggled for many years under Darrell Hazell (now fired) was the inability to protect the ball from opposing defenses. Even though Purdue has played better this season on offense, the Boilermakers still turn the ball over at an alarming pace. By contrast, Minnesota has forced more fumbles than anyone else in the Big Ten while not giving up the ball much itself. In a game where Purdue is trying to make up for a talent gap and a home field advantage, mistakes such as these cannot be made if there is to be serious hope for an upset.
— 304.6. That’s the passing yards per game for Purdue’s offense in 2016 (1st in B1G). The Gophers are not statistically bad on defense against opposing passing attacks, but this secondary and the linebackers will be challenged by David Blough and his receivers early and often on Saturday. Purdue has had serious trouble running the ball this season, but that fact has not stopped the Boilermaker receivers and tight ends from finding openings in the defense for big plays and third-down conversions. This is one area of the game where Purdue can beat an opponent or stick close to them, so focus in the Gopher coaching rooms this week should be on developing appropriate coverage schemes and plays to stop the Boilermakers.
3 Key Players:
DeAngelo Yancey, Purdue WR: Yancey has 30 receptions on the season, but 6 of these have gone for touchdowns to lead the team. Whereas his fellow receiver and teammate Domonique Young had received more of the workload earlier in the season, Young’s knee injury has opened the door for Yancey to become the new top target for David Blough. Purdue’s offense gets about 70 yards receiving per game from this top target, and Minnesota will need to blanket him with good coverage to avoid giving up the big pass plays.
David Blough, Purdue QB: Despite some injuries and some turnover in the ranks, one thing has remained constant on Purdue’s offense, and that’s the quarterback. Even though Blough has needed to deal with pressure behind a developing offensive line, his quick reads and instincts help him deliver the ball and avoid any big negative plays. Blough leads the conference in total offense and passing yards per game, and it seems unlikely that the Gophers will completely shut him down. Of course, if numerous mistakes are made and more Boilermaker turnovers happen as alluded to above, Blough will likely not have enough in the tank to keep this game close enough to win.
Tai’yon Devers, Minnesota DE: What could help contain Purdue’s passing attack and David Blough? Well, a good pass rush for one thing. Devers has contributed right away in a big way as a freshman defensive lineman, adding three sacks and three forced fumbles in 7 total games on the season (he missed the PSU game with an injury). Look for this force on the front of the Minnesota defense to be disruptive all game, and perhaps come up with another turnover given how prone Purdue can be to making mistakes. Devers and his line need to play well to stop Purdue from keeping this game closer than it should be on paper.
4 Staff Predictions:
Andy: Minnesota 38-10
Dave: Minnesota 34-23
Phil H.: Minnesota 37-17
Philip R.: Minnesota 38-24
Zach: Minnesota 35-14