Biggest Keys for Gophers vs Boilermakers: Run the Ball and Hit the QB

What: Minnesota Gophers (3-1) vs Purdue Boilermakers (2-2)
Where: Ross-Ade Stadium – West Lafayette, Indiana
When: Saturday, October 7 – 2:30 PM CT
How: Watch: ESPN2/Watch ESPN Listen: KFAN/iHeartRadio

After a disappointing loss vs Maryland last weekend, the Gophers are trying to rebound against a Purdue team they have beaten 4 times in a row. The Boilermakers are 3.5 point favorites at home. How do the Gophers pull off the upset?

It’s simple: Run the ball on offense and pressure the QB on defense.

Run the Ball:

The Gophers NEED to run the football better in this game than they did vs Maryland. The Gopher running game, that is supposed to feature two of the best backs in the Big Ten, in Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks, mustered all of 80 yards against Maryland. And Maryland isn’t known for its stout run defense.

Lacking a passing threat, defenses have been stacking the box against what they know will be a run-heavy offense. The Gophers have a young offensive line, which doesn’t help. The best way to keep them on their heels is to make the Purdue defense think twice about selling out on the run.

I expect the Gophers to come out showing heavy run, but actually throwing out of those sets. I’d like to see some quick-hit screens and play-action to keep the defense on their heels early. Ryan Burns, of Gopher Illustrated (subscription needed), also points out the two starters Purdue will be missing on defense in the first half. Targeting penalties will do that to a team. Ja’Whaun Bentley and Jacob Thieneman will both watch the first half from the Boilermaker locker room.

If the Gophers can move the ball early with the pass, it should open the field up for the run. It’s also a lot easier to run with the lead. Those first drives will be very important.

Bring QB Pressure:

If the Gophers can run the ball with success, the offense will flourish. The defense will flourish if they can get pressure on the Purdue QBs. The Gopher secondary is likely missing 3 out of its top 6 players. That includes their standout Sophomore, Antoine Winfield Jr., who injured his hamstring early in the Maryland game.

We still aren’t sure if David Blough, the Purdue starting QB, will play. He is hampered by a shoulder injury. The Gophers found out how much a backup… or even 3rd string QB can hurt you, when they were beat by Maryland’s Max Bortenschlager. He was filling in for both the starter and 2nd string, after both suffered knee injuries.

The defensive line struggled to get ANY pressure last week and it allowed the Terrapin offense to go 9/16 on 3rd downs and move the ball down the field consistently. It seems like this defense is afraid to rush more than four defenders. They need to find a way to bring pressure, so if they are afraid to blitz, they better figure something out. Ryan Burns makes a great point in his preview, mentioning the 2016 defense. They liked to bring 6-7 guys to the line of scrimmage, trying to make the offensive line guess which 4-5 guys were actually coming.

Either way, the defense better figure something out. If they can’t bring pressure, this Purdue offense is going to put up points. They average almost 30 points/game and over 250 yards in the air.

If the Gophers are able to succeed in these two categories, they will win on Saturday afternoon. If not, they won’t.

I predict that Fleck will have them ready and the Gophers win 31-21. Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks will combine for over 200 yards rushing and the Gopher defense will take the Purdue QBs down 5+ times.

Eric Strack
Minnesota Sports Fan @RealMNSportsFan