Two defensively challenged football teams meet in West Lafayette, Indiana on Saturday when the Gophers and Purdue play in the Big Ten Conference opening game for both schools. Minnesota’s defense has been imploding in conference games for years and continued its reputation earlier in the month with a 42-17 non-conference loss to California. Purdue’s defense ranked near the bottom among major college teams last season and its three mediocre non-conference opponents this year have averaged 31.3 points per game against the Boilermakers.
Here’s the point: the Gophers may have the better defense. Minnesota has shutouts in two of its first three games, defeating Kent State 44-0 and Temple 62-0. Purdue has defeated I-AA Indiana State, 60-35, Miami of Ohio, 38-31, and Ball State, 38-28. The Boilermakers went into overtime at home to defeat Miami, a team that previously lost to Northwestern, 21-3, and last Saturday was beaten by Kent State, 16-14 (on Miami’s home field). Northwestern, by the way, lost to I-AA New Hampshire at home the week after beating Miami.
This is a circle it opportunity game for Minnesota. Other conference road games will be at Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan State. All are currently more highly regarded opponents than Purdue, a team with inexperienced players on defense including two freshmen starters in the secondary.
Minnesota’s chances may be determined by limiting the number of big plays by the Purdue offense and by how many minutes the Gopher offense can keep the ball away from the Boilermakers and score points. Against California the Gophers blew defensive coverages and generated a mild pass rush. Tackling was a flop.
Sophomore quarterback Curtis Painter threw three touchdown passes and passed for over 400 yards against Ball State last Saturday and figures to improve as the season continues. He has explosive helpers in sophomore wide receiver (much hyped) Selwyn Lymon, junior wide receiver Dorien Bryant and junior running back Kory Sheets.
Purdue has long been known as a passing school, Minnesota as a running program. Unless the Gophers fall way behind in the game early, look for Minnesota to prefer the run over the pass. Quarterback Bryan Cupito, a senior, needs to give Minnesota an edge at quarterback, with fewer mistakes, sound leadership and timely passes.
Circle the Gophers and their fans happy after this game?