Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Big Win for the Gophers

I may have chosen some hyperbolic phraseology in my stating that Saturday's Gopher football homecoming game against Purdue was a "must-win," but it was if one looks at the schedule and sees trips to State College, PA and Columbus, OH as the next two games. With this in mind, the Gophers overcame a slow start and defeated Purdue 35-20.

It was a cold, windy, and generally miserable day at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday, and it became apparent early on that all scoring must be done going from east-to-west. Of the game's 55 points, only three were scored against the wind. The wind hindered the passing game, which seemed to affect the Gophers more than the Boilermakers. QB Adam Weber attempted just 9 passes all game, completing 5 for a mere 74 yards and two picks. The difference in this game was turnovers and the Gophers' establishment of a running game in the second half.

Purdue dominated the first quarter and scored the game's first 10 points. A 14-play, 68-yard drive led to a Carson Wiggs 43 yard field goal to begin the scoring. After an interception of a Gopher pass, the Boilermakers capped a 59-yard drive with a TD pass from Joey Elliott to Aaron Valentin. The Gophers were looking like a team which would be blown out at home on their homecoming game.

However, the Gophers started moving the ball on the ground in the second quarter. DeLeon Eskridge had 1-yard TD runs on consecutive possessions, one set up by a long return of an interception by Gopher linebacker Lee Campbell, to give the local squad a 14-10 lead. A Wiggs field goal closed out the first half scoring with the Gophers leading by a mere point.

In the third quarter, it was all Minnesota. The Gophers had a nice drive after a Purdue punt to start the half, capped by a Weber rushing TD. After Purdue fumbled the kickoff, Kevin Whaley ran in from 1 yard out to give the Gophers a 28-13 lead. On the next drive, Purdue lined up a field goal, and it was blocked by Campbell and returned 47 yards by Traye Simmons for a TD. In a stunning turn of events, the Gophers had three quick TDs and held a 35-13 lead. A Purdue TD in the fourth quarter made it more interesting, but the Gophers were never really threatened.

The Gophers were out-gained offensively 402-281, but made good on both turnovers it forced. It turned a blocked field goal into a TD and a late interception by Simmons was returned deep into Purdue territory to salt away the victory. As a team, the Gophers ran 44 times for 207 yards. They used Whaley, Eskridge, and Duane Bennett in the rushing attack, and each responded admirably. The Gophers realized early on that the passing attack was not going to work in the elements, and made adjustments on the ground. Heck, they even did a little off-tackle rushing - especially with Whaley, shocking this columnist!

The Gophers are now 2-1 in the Big Ten and are 4-2 overall. They took care of business in a must-win game and now head to State College to take on the Penn State Nittany Lions in a real test. If we're looking for a signature victory for the Tim Brewster era, next week would be a nice opportunity. The Lions are coming off a 52-3 shellacking of Eastern Illinois this week, and enter next week 1-1 in the Big Ten and 5-1 overall.

The Gophers will have to play like they did in the second half to have even a remote chance next week. Of course, Glen Mason led a team into State College ten years ago and came away with an improbable victory, so one never knows.

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