It was a game which will be remembered for a controversial offensive pass interference call in the final minute. But it was oh so much more than that.
Minnesota beat Purdue for the sixth straight time at home, this time 34-31 on Friday night, in a game which featured good – and then puzzling – offense, a lack of defense, struggling special teams and, yes, some interesting refereeing.
The win doesn’t save the Gophers’ season by any means, but Minnesota is better off at 2-3 than 1-4 with games against Wisconsin and Northwestern upcoming. Any dreams Purdue had at a Big Ten West title were dashed.
Both teams came into the game less than 100% — Minnesota had only 61 scholarship players available, with 25 players and coaches unavailable due to injuries or COVID-19. Purdue was without starting quarterback Aidan O’Connell.
Nevertheless, both offenses churned out yards. There were three punts in the entire contest with nearly 900 yards of combined offense. Each team had four touchdowns drives of 75+ yards. Not surprisingly, neither defense recorded a sack.
It was a game of big plays – and not just offensive plays which succeeded. There was a missed extra-point attempt, a blocked field-goal attempt and a 33-yard field-goal attempt which went wide right. There was an incredible near interception, near catch which then was determined to be incomplete. There was Minnesota suddenly getting conservative on offense with Mo Ibrahim on the sideline and calling a strange wildcat run on 4th-and-1 from its own 34. The Gophers also got a game-sealing interception from little-used Josh Aune, the redshirt sophomore’s first collegiate pick.
And, of course, there were a couple of questionable pass interference calls, none more notable than a pass interference on Purdue tight end Payne Durham which wiped out a go-ahead touchdown.
The Gophers were likely the only ones not complaining about the last one (social media was, naturally, on fire after the call), and why should they. After all, they won.
Game story | Photo gallery
Here’s a recap of Friday’s game:
PLAYER OF THE GAME
This might seem strange, especially since he had no touchdowns, but Tanner Morgan was the key to Minnesota’s offense. Morgan completed 15 of 22 passes for 264 yards – with a couple of drops — an average of 12 yards per attempt. Morgan has had trouble with accuracy this season, throwing high, wide or short. But not in this game. He was on target, especially on deep throws. Nine of his completions went for 19+ yards and several of those came on blitzes with an oncoming rusher, yet he still was dropping dimes. Morgan also spread the ball around for a change, not just focusing on Rashod Bateman. While Bateman did lead the team in targets, he had “just” eight. Chris Autman-Bell had seven and led the Gophers with five catches and 129 yards. Morgan targeted eight receivers overall, completing passes to seven. And, perhaps most importantly in a game like this, he didn’t commit a turnover. Bottom line, he put Minnesota in a position to win.
DON’T FORGET ABOUT ME
Ibrahim only had one rush of 10+ yards (a long of 17) and his totals of 102 yards on 25 carries (4.1 average) were a little ho-hum compared to the 200+-yard efforts he’s bee putting up. But he’s the Gophers’ goal-line closer, evidenced by his three short rushing touchdowns. Ibrahim is the first FBS player to record 800+ rushing yards and 13 rushing TDs in his team’s first five games since Texas’ Ricky Williams in 1998. Minnesota really missed Ibrahim in the fourth quarter as he was forced to sit out the final eight minutes by team doctors. The Gophers couldn’t get much going on the ground (without Ibrahim perhaps they should have tried to salt away the game in the air?) and were forced into that fourth-down play and a three-and-out in which they gained all of one yard. Yeah, he’s an important player.
A lot of talk will revolve around the pass interference call at the tail end of the game, but the game might have been decided at the end of the first half. Taking over at its own 19 with 2:06 remaining, Purdue drove down to Minnesota’s 10-yard line with 10 seconds remaining. Boilermakers quarterback Jake Plummer hit Rondale Moore in the end zone for what looked like a touchdown, but replay showed that Justus Harris helped knock the ball out of Moore’s hands – the senior’s first career PBU — with the call overturned to an incompletion (Plummer had been 16-of-17 passing before this throw). With not much time left, the Boilermakers went for a chip shot 27-yard field-goal attempt but Micah Dew-Treadway blocked it. Needless to say, those missed points (TD or field goal) proved to be big. “That was a bad sequence,” Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm said. “I forgot about that one with everything that happened at the end of game.” Easy to forget, but this is why games aren’t decided on one play (like the OPI).
100%. Minnesota was in the red five times and came away with five touchdowns. It was the second time in five games the Gophers were perfect in the red zone, the other time being against Maryland (6-for-6). Purdue was just 4-of-7 in the red zone (three TDs, one field goal). That’s a big difference in what was a three-point game.
THEY SAID IT
“Just courage. Determination. Row the boat. Never quit And then a Minnesota kid picks it off at the end. It really came down to who was going to turn the ball over first.” — head coach P.J. Fleck on what he saw from the defense
“He was tough tonight. He had an edge to him. He played gritty. He was accurate. He had complete understanding of the offense, control of his teammates.” — Fleck on Morgan
“Man, he got open and made a play. … When I saw Chris one-on-one, I knew he was going to come down with the ball. No doubt in my mind at all.” — Morgan on Chris Autman-Bell’s 33-yard catch on a fourth-and-8 play
“Refs made a call but we still had to finish the game and Aune made a heck of a play.” — cornerback Phillip Howard on the offensive pass interference penalty
“I think you know what I think. I didn’t like it a lot, I can’t really comment on it. … But, yes, I didn’t like it at all.” – Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm on the late offensive pass interference call
It’s another rivalry game for Minnesota as the Gophers head to Camp Randall Stadium to face Wisconsin, which is 2-0 entering Saturday’s game at Northwestern, for the right to claim Paul Bunyan’s Axe. The Gophers won in Madison the last time the teams played there in 2018.
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