Good afternoon from a chilly TCF Bank Stadium, where the Gophers take on Purdue at 2:30 p.m. (ESPN2), looking to rebound from last week’s 55-31 loss at Illinois. The theme of the day will be the Gophers defense and how it performs after a week of change.
Gophers coach P.J. Fleck relieved defensive coordinator Robb Smith of his duties on Sunday and named defensive line coach Joe Rossi the interim coordinator. Rossi takes over a unit that has allowed an average of 43.2 points and 507.7 yards in Big Ten play. Given the time frame of the move, expect tweaks but not wholesale changes.
“We’ve been through the spring, we’ve been through the summer, been through nine games,’’ he said Wednesday. “We’re not going to be able to make changes other than minor changes. There will be a few wrinkles here and there, but let’s be honest. That can’t happen in one or two days. I think sometime when there’s a different voice, that can be positive for people in the room. The main thing can be some of the mental focus in just hearing that voice and then just some energy from increasing the energy and physicality of practice, which is something we’ve looked to do the last two days.’’
The Gophers will be thin at defensive tackle. O.J. Smith will miss his fifth consecutive game because of a head injury, while Royal Sliver, who started in Smith’s place, is out because of an undisclosed injury.
The Gophers will face a Purdue team that’s on a roll, with victories in five of its past six games. Leading the surge is senior quarterback David Blough, who has averaged 365.9 passing yards and has 17 touchdown passes in the past seven games. “He’s probably playing the best football at the quarterback position, of film I’ve watched, in the country,’’ Fleck said. “It’s incredible what he’s able to do. He’s got a lot of weapons, a lot of time, he understands their system inside and out.’’
Purdue’s best weapon aside from Blough might be true freshman receiver Rondale Moore, who has 74 receptions for 833 yards and seven touchdowns. Blough spreads the ball around, too, as four other Boilermakers have 20 or more receptions.
“They’re good,’’ Rossi said. “They’re throwing the ball well, they’ve got legit receivers – two or three guys who are really, really good players. The biggest thing is they are a team that excels on the big play -- whether that’s a big play in the run, a big play on the pass. So, force them to drive the length of the field. That would be the key, being able to keep the ball in front, hold them to field goals. They’re a very talented team.’’
A few things to watch from the Gophers today:
* How will quarterback Tanner Morgan rebound?
Morgan passed for 302 yards and three TDs in the 38-31 win over Indiana in his first start, but he had a tougher time of it against Illinois, going 14-for-27 for 258 yards and two TDs. He was sacked three times. Left tackle Donnell Greene returns after missing last week's game because of injury.
* Will Rashod Bateman continue to stay hot?
The true freshman caught the winning 67-yard TD pass late in the fourth quarter against Indiana and followed that up with seven catches for 175 yards, including TDs of 86 and 61 yards, against Illinois. Bateman has two consecutive 100-yard receiving games.
* How will the Gophers’ rushing game fare?
Redshirt freshman Mohamed Ibrahim missed most of the second half against Illinois because of an undisclosed injury, but Fleck said Tuesday the team’s leading rusher is expected to play today. Look for true freshman Bryce Williams to see action, too.