WEST LAFAYETTE, IND. – The Gophers football team had a bye week before its Big Ten opener, which means offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca had two weeks to prepare his game plan.
He only needed 30 seconds.
He could have scribbled down one play on an index card and brought that with him to the game Saturday.
There, done. Go get ’em, boys.
The Gophers ran a fast-break offense to perfection because their wide receiver corps is fantastic and Purdue’s defense is the opposite of fantastic.
Tanner Morgan and his highlight-film receivers played a simple game of pitch and catch in posting video game statistics in a 38-31 rout-turned-dramatic victory over Purdue at Ross-Ade Stadium.
“We have playmakers everywhere, which is really nice to have,” Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said.
Morgan was nearly perfect throwing the ball, completing 20 of 21 passes for 396 yards and four touchdowns. One incompletion? What a slacker.
“That just speaks to how well we were executing,” Morgan said.
Execution plus supreme talent at wide receiver. The passing game hummed so effortlessly that it looked like a 7-on-7 session. Throw a slant pass and watch them run. Brilliant.
Purdue knew it was coming — heck, every team knows the Gophers will run slants — but still couldn’t stop it.
“Our guys are really, really good at running it,” Morgan said.
Minnesota’s power running offense went into a changing room in the first half and emerged as the Air Raid. Kidding. Sort of.
The Gophers may have found their identity, though. They can’t or shouldn’t ignore their running game, but getting the ball in the hands of their best playmakers isn’t a bad first option. Especially when the opposing secondary is as vulnerable as the one Purdue fields.
The Boilermakers don’t defend anything particularly well, but Ciarrocca crafted a game plan with a pass-first emphasis for good reason. Morgan came out of the gate firing, and his receivers found more open space than Arizona desert land.
Quick-hitting passes turned into big gains as Tyler Johnson, Rashod Bateman and Chris Autman-Bell won foot races against Purdue’s overmatched secondary.
Morgan completed his first 12 passes and finished the first half with 298 yards passing and three touchdowns.
“It was a great game plan that we felt really confident in,” Morgan said.
Unlike other years when the Gophers had one primary receiver, the Gophers boast a full contingent of threats. Johnson and Bateman are future NFL draft picks. Autman-Bell is underrated because of the two stars ahead of him. And Demetrius Douglas displayed his talent in crunch time against Georgia Southern two weeks ago.
This is the Gophers best group of receivers in … forever?
The Gophers have not been effective running the ball this season, though Rodney Smith rushed for 115 yards on Saturday. But showcasing the passing game is smart business because their receivers are special, all capable of turning short passes into home runs.
Autman-Bell took a slant 70 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter. Bateman took a slant 45 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. Johnson made an acrobatic 3-yard touchdown catch on a fade.
Credit Morgan for hitting his receivers on target in stride so they’re not forced to contort their body just to haul in the pass. And credit the offensive line for giving Morgan time in the pocket.
The receivers make Morgan look good even when he’s just a hair off. He underthrew Bateman on a deep ball on the first play of the third quarter. Bateman fought off his defender while maintaining control of the ball for a 42-yard completion.
The next series, Bateman used a double move to create separation for a 47-yard touchdown catch. He finished with six catches for 177 yards and two touchdowns.
“Rashod Bateman, holy cow, he has a different gear,” Fleck said.
That entire position group plays at top gear. Air it out.
“Whatever it’s going to take to win a football game, we have to be consistent,” Fleck said. “Whoever has the hot hand and whatever the game plan says, we’ll take what they give us.”
The slant was there this time. And boy did they take it.