Nelson makes himself at home, leads Gophers rout
- Blog Post by: Phil Miller
- October 27, 2012 - 6:12 PM
He's actually from Mankato, about 90 miles away from Minneapolis. But TCF Bank Stadium sure looked like home to Philip Nelson.
The freshman quarterback, playing only his second college game, threw three touchdown passes in the first 20 minutes of his home debut for the Gophers, and Minnesota ended its three-game losing streak with a convincing 44-28 rout of Purdue.
Nelson completed 11 of his first 12 passes, three of them touchdown passes of 34 yards or longer, and the Gophers scored 44 consecutive points -- tying their biggest offensive output under Jerry Kill -- to shock the 3-4 Boilermakers, who had won 11 of the teams' last 14 meetings.
It was a day of firsts for Minnesota: First turnover recovered in a Big Ten game, first lead in the conference season, first defensive touchdown of the year. But most important: First victory of Nelson's career.
Nelson completed 15 of 22 passes for 246 yards, three touchdowns, and zero interceptions. Donnell Kirkwood added 134 rushing yards on 22 carries, and A.J. Barker had 135 yards and two scores on five catches.
Purdue, now 3-5 and 0-4 in the Big Ten, went 46 yards for a touchdown on its first possession, including a 40-yard running play by tailback Akeem Shavers that gave the game an air of here-we-go-again, considering how many rushing yards the Gophers have allowed in Big Ten play.
But Nelson, a 19-year-old freshman from Mankato West High, changed all that. He hit Derrick Engel, open in the end zone, with a 34-yard touchdown strike to tie the game, then found MarQueis Gray inside the 5 for a 33-yard gain. That set up a 4-yard touchdown by Rodrick Williams on a punishing run up the middle, putting Minnesota in front of a Big Ten game for the first time all year.
Nelson wasn't done, however. He found A.J. Barker on the right sideline on the next possession, hitting the receiver in stride as he streaked to the end zone for a 38-yard score. And Barker, the Gophers' leading receiver on the season, got behind the Purdue secondary on the next drive and waited for a Nelson bomb, a 63-yard scoring play.
Minnesota, which had scored exactly 13 points in its first three Big Ten games and had not scored more than 17 since Sept. 15, added field goals of 40 and 35 yards by Jordan Wettstein shortly before halftime, taking a 24-point lead -- their largest halftime lead since the Illinois game last season -- into the locker room.
If Purdue had any hopes of turning the game around in the second half, Michael Carter prevented it. The senior cornerback hounded Boilermaker receiver Gary Bush on Purdue's first possession, breaking up three passes before jumping in front of Bush for an interception. Carter sprinted down the left sideline with the pick for 43 yards, scoring the first touchdown of his career.
The catch was also Minnesota's first takeaway in its four Big Ten games this season, and helped the Gophers surpass the 39 points they had scored in their previous three Big Ten games combined.
Robert Marve relieved starting quarterback Caleb TerBush in the second half and likely sparked a quarterback controversy in West Lafayette by leading the Boilermakers on two second-half touchdown drives, completing a 10-yard pass to Dolapo Macarthy and a 7-yarder to Antavian Edison for scores. Rob Henry threw a 25-yard pass to Danny Anthrop in the fourth quarter to complete the scoring.
But it was too little to rally past the Nelson-led Gophers, who improved to 5-3 on the season, one victory short of bowl eligibility.
© 2014 Star Tribune