WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – When an opponent gives you the ball four times in the first half, it’s just asking to lose.
And when you don’t fully convert on those turnovers, you’re leaving the door open for the opponent to rally — even if it needs to rally multiple times.
That’s just what happened Saturday as the Gophers lost their second consecutive game, 31-17 to Purdue in a thunderstorm-delayed contest that began in the afternoon and stretched into the night at Ross-Ade Stadium.
Markell Jones scored on 12-yard run with minute, 17 seconds left in the fourth quarter, and Purdue added a two-point conversion for a 24-17 lead after the Gophers went ahead 17-16 on Emmit Carpenter’s 38-yard field goal with 2:26 to play.
The Gophers had one last gasp. Quarterback Conor Rhoda found Rashad Still, who made a great catch for a 32-yard gain to the Purdue 32 with 43 seconds left. But on fourth-and-5 from the 27, Boilermakers linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley intercepted Rhoda’s pass and returned it 76 yards for a touchdown with 10 seconds left.
“Four takeaways, you should win the game,’’ Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said. “It’s 100 percent my fault.’’
The Gophers (3-2, 0-2 Big Ten) converted two of Purdue’s four first-half turnovers into 14 points, but they couldn’t cash in on two other giveaways and great field position in the second quarter. Minnesota started possessions at its 43 and the Purdue 37 after recovering Boilermakers fumbles, but came away with nothing. One drive went three-and-out, and the other ended with the Gophers driving to the Purdue 8, only to have Rhoda lose a fumble.
“I’ve got to take care of the ball better,’’ said Rhoda, who completed 11 of 25 passes for 101 yards and two touchdowns but had those two costly turnovers.
After dodging that would-be knockout blow, the Boilermakers (3-2, 1-1) won in front of an announced 42,085 in a game that was delayed for 1 hour, 28 minutes when the thunder, lightning and rain rolled in.
Just before the delay, Purdue took a 16-14 lead on D.J. Dellinger’s 19-yard field goal with 9:58 left. Officials immediately suspended play and fans were moved to adjacent Mackey Arena to wait out the storm.
The Gophers emerged from the delay with renewed focus, driving 62 yards in 17 plays and eating 7:32 off the clock. Shannon Brooks — who rushed 18 times for 116 yards — and Rodney Smith each converted fourth-and-1 situations on the march, and Brooks’ 10-yard sweep to the Purdue 27 set up Carpenter’s go-ahead kick.
“We had to put one big drive together, and we knew we could kick a field goal and win or score a touchdown and win,’’ Rhoda said.
Purdue, however, had a quick and decisive answer.
First, D.J. Knox returned the kickoff 44 yards to the Boilermakers 44. Then, Elijah Sindelar hit Anthony Mahoungou on a crossing pattern for a 37-yard gain to the Gophers 12. Two plays later, Jones’ TD run put Purdue ahead for good.
“To have five plays and have them go down the field, that’s unacceptable,’’ Fleck said, again blaming himself.
The wind, gusting to 35 miles per hour, played a big role on Purdue’s first touchdown.
The Gophers, going into the wind, went three-and-out, and Jacob Herbers — not Ryan Santoso — was sent in to punt. Herbers’ punt went only 11 yards, setting up Purdue at the Minnesota 37. Three plays and one Gophers facemask penalty later, David Blough hit tight end Cole Herdman for a 20-yard TD pass. Spencer Evans missed the extra-point attempt, leaving the score 6-0 only 2:17 into the game.
The Gophers feasted on Purdue’s first turnover in the first quarter. Adekunle Ayinde intercepted Blough at the Purdue 39, and Brooks broke free for a 40-yard run. On third-and-goal from the 3, Rhoda hit Tyler Johnson for a 3-yard TD pass and a 7-6 lead.
Purdue responded by driving to the Gophers 6. But Kamal Martin ended the Boilermakers’ threat by intercepting Blough’s third-down pass in the end zone on the first play of the second quarter.
The Gophers quickly cashed that in for a 14-6 lead, with Smith going on a spectacular 51-yard gain to the Purdue 10 that featured a 360-degree spin and four missed tackles. On third-and-goal, Rhoda found tight end Brandon Lingen in the back of the end zone for a 2-yard TD toss on a play-action fake.
Purdue replaced Blough with Sindelar on its next series, and Sindelar played the rest of the game. He finished 19-for-26 for 248 yards and a TD, leading three second-half scoring drives.
“We obviously had an opportunity to win,” Gophers defensive end Carter Coughlin said, “which is why it hurts so much.”