Akeem Shavers took the handoff, cut to his right, and discovered what four or five other Big Ten running backs have found in the past month: There's nobody there.
Shavers sprinted upfield and, on Purdue's first running play of the game, gained 40 yards, arriving at the Gophers 6. A couple of plays later, the Boilermakers were in the end zone, and Minnesota trailed once more.
Same old Gophers, right?
Not this time.
The U's defense forced punts on Purdue's next five possessions, then opened the second half with a pick-and-go by senior cornerback Michael Carter, a 43-yard score that punctuated an aggressive defensive stand. The Gophers gave up 381 yards of offense, but 258 of them came after they established a 44-7 lead.
Coach Jerry Kill sounded slightly annoyed by Purdue's three late touchdowns, but he was pleased by a defense that allowed only four first downs before halftime.
"I don't think our kids understand about being ahead," Kill said. "I thought we dragged a little bit in the third and fourth quarter."
Still, it was the first time in four Big Ten games that no ball-carrier rushed for more than 100 yards. Shavers finished with 78 yards on 11 carries.
Kirkwood runs hard
The strongest rusher Saturday was Donnell Kirkwood, the Gophers sophomore who got stronger as the game went on. He had 44 yards by halftime, and when the Gophers needed to run out the clock, he allowed them to keep possession for long stretches.
Kirkwood gained 134 yards, a career high, and more than the 114 total he had collected in the first three conference games combined.
"He's definitely a hard runner. Give the ball to him, he's going to fall forward, no doubt," said quarterback Philip Nelson. "It was huge for him to come out in the fourth quarter and seal that game. The offensive line opened some holes for him, he ran over some people and we got some first downs and kept the clock running."
In addition to Michael Carter's interception, the Gophers nearly recovered four other turnovers. Troy Stoudermire intercepted a pass near the Gophers sideline in the second quarter, and Minnesota's offense trotted onto the field. But the review official looked at the play and determined he was out of bounds as he made the catch and overturned the call. Later, Stoudermire intercepted another pass in the end zone, but the play was negated by an offsides penalty.
Derrick Wells also had what looked like a diving interception, but officials ruled it had touched the ground, and the Gophers chose not to challenge it. A third-quarter fumble by quarterback Caleb TerBush deep in Purdue territory looked like it would be recovered by one of three Gophers diving for the ball, but it squirted out of their hands before center Rick Schmeig smothered it.
Attendance was 41,062, the smallest crowd in TCF Bank Stadium's four-year history.
The U's 44 points were the most it had scored vs. Purdue since a 59-56 victory in 1993.
The Gophers won their fifth game of the season, the first time since 2009 that they have reached that mark.
Jordan Wettstein kicked field goals of 40, 35, and 44 yards but missed one from 45 yards late in the fourth quarter.
The Boilermakers nearly downed a punt on the 1-foot line in the first quarter, but officials ruled Danny Anthrop was standing on the goal line as he downed it, and the ball had crossed the plane of the line.