The 2011 season was just a year ago, but watching cornerback Michael Carter, it seems a world away.

One season separated from a college career that had presented more questions than answers, Carter again showed on Saturday against Purdue how he has become a critical part of a Gophers secondary that was mostly an unknown factor coming into the season.

Carter had six pass breakups in the game, tying a Minnesota school record set by Michael Lehan against Michigan State in 2001, and grabbed an interception -- the Gophers' first turnover of any kind in Big Ten play -- that he returned for a touchdown.

"I just felt like I was just in the zone," Carter said. "All I seen was daylight, man, the fans cheering. So I was like, 'Let's go.' "

With the Gophers coming off a dominating first half, Carter quickly ensured the second would have the same vibe. In the first drive of the third quarter, Carter was all over Purdue QB Caleb TerBush's receivers, breaking up three of the Purdue playmaker's four incomplete passes and seemingly getting more aggressive with each play.

On second-and-10, Carter dove in front of Gary Bush and swatted the pass to the turf. One play later, Carter ducked in front of Bush, snatched the interception and ran the length of the sideline for the Gophers' fifth touchdown of the day.

"This is my 30th year of coaching and I don't know if I've ever seen a corner have things go like that," coach Jerry Kill said of Carter's dominance of the third-quarter possession. "I was happy for Michael. He's been through a lot and I'm happy for his success."

Indeed, it hasn't always been daylight and cheers for the 5-11, 189-pound senior who came to Minnesota as a highly touted prospect from Pompano, Fla., but struggled for most of his career.

Carter played in 12 games his freshman season, but as off-field struggles started to pile up, his on-field opportunities went the other way.

With injuries frustrating Carter -- and the defensive back's attitude and poor grades frustrating the coaching staff -- his appearances dropped to seven games his sophomore season and then five last year.

"I probably wasn't the most mature kid when I was 18, 19, 20 years old. I made my share of mistakes, but I think it's just maturity and growing up and focusing in on what you want to do," Carter said.

But Carter said before the start of this year that he found a new focus. He sat down with his cousin, Tyrone Carter, a former NFL player and ex-Gopher, who Michael credits with helping turn things around.