WEST LAFAYETTE, IND. — As Matthew Trickett trotted out to the soggy grass at Ross-Ade Stadium to attempt a 38-yard field goal Saturday, the rain that consistently fell on the Gophers and Purdue disappeared.
"It was amazing. It was pouring rain and we're getting ready to kick a field goal, and it completely goes dry," Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said. "I was like, 'Oh, that's good for us.' Then I was like, 'Wait a minute. It just went dry for them.' "
Trickett would make that kick, extending the Gophers' lead to seven points with 1:47 left in the fourth quarter. Purdue would have its last gasp, quickly driving to the Minnesota 27-yard line before safety Tyler Nubin's interception locked down the Gophers' 20-13 victory.
"We did what we had to do to win the football game," Fleck said, but quickly cautioning. "What's good enough right now might not be good enough next week."
With a 3-2 overall record and a 1-1 mark in Big Ten play, the Gophers enter their bye week as a bit of an enigma. Are they the team that went to Colorado and buffaloed the Buffaloes 30-0, or are they the squad that lost at home to Bowling Green, a 31-point underdog, a week later? Are they the team that led Ohio State at halftime and in the third quarter, or are they the group that nearly frittered away most of a 21-3 halftime lead against Miami (Ohio)?
The answer probably is a little bit of each that might add up to what transpired Saturday at Purdue. By no means were the Gophers potent offensively, as evidenced by three consecutive three-and-outs in the first half. Still, when they needed big plays to win, the offense dug down and found them. The two sparkling examples were Mike Brown-Stephens' 54-yard reception to start the third quarter, and the gutsy, third-down, move-the-chains rushes by Cole Kramer and Trey Potts on the clock-draining drive late in the fourth quarter.
On defense, the stats will show that the Gophers allowed Purdue to run 86 plays and collect 448 yards of offense. The score sheet also will show that the Boilermakers visited the end zone only once and put up zero points after halftime.
"I'm not into bend-not-breaking; we always want to keep people out of the end zone, period," Fleck said of his defense. "They did a good job of that and finishing the game."
The task ahead for the Gophers this week is to get healthy. Top receiver Chris Autman-Bell missed two full games and all but two plays of another because of an ankle injury suffered during training camp. He caught two passes against Purdue, but it's clear that rest can help him recapture the explosiveness he's been missing. Defensive leader Mariano Sori-Marin left in the first quarter Saturday because of a lower-leg injury, and Fleck indicated the linebacker should be able to return after the bye week.
The Gophers will close the season with a seven-game Big Ten sprint, with five against West Division opponents, beginning Oct. 16 against Nebraska at Huntington Bank Stadium. Minnesota likely will be either favorites or slight underdogs in six of those games, with third-ranked Iowa being the exception. Odds, as the loss to 31-point underdog Bowling Green shows, might not always apply well to this mercurial Gophers team.
While the loss to Bowling Green was an embarrassment, it didn't change the Gophers' standing in the standings. To win the West, they likely need to win out. A loss wouldn't eliminate them, but the Gophers, like the rest of the division, are chasing undefeated Iowa. Saturday's result at least has them pointed in the right direction.
"This was a huge step forward," Fleck said afterward as the rain stayed away, providing the Gophers another brief window of sunshine.