WEST LAFAYETTE, IND. – While the Gophers passing offense rolled in Saturday’s 38-31 victory at Purdue, their defense labored.
It started the game with a three-and-out and limiting Purdue to a field goal after the Boilermakers started on the Gophers 40-yard line. But after Purdue suffered game-altering injuries to quarterback Elijah Sindelar and receiver Rondale Moore in the first quarter, the Gophers defense allowed big plays from the backup quarterback.
Freshman Jack Plummer rushed to convert on a third-and-14, eventually leading to a Boilermakers score. Purdue then came out of halftime, down 28-10, with another strong scoring drive, marching 75 yards to the end zone in six plays and about 2½ minutes.
The defense ended the game allowing 414 yards. There were some individual standout moments, such as senior linebacker Kamal Martin’s two interceptions, senior rush end Carter Coughlin’s two pass breakups, senior defensive tackle Sam Renner’s sack and senior defensive end Tai’yon Devers’ sack that ended Sindelar’s day. But collectively, the unit wasn’t great at wrapping up and finishing tackles.
“I just don’t think people were running their feet. I think we were doing too much lunging,” Coughlin said, adding that communication was also an issue. “And that’s when people are able to break tackles, when you lunge, and you dive for them, and you don’t run your feet.”
Gophers coach P.J. Fleck hinted at changes on his offensive line the whole week leading up to Purdue. On Saturday, he did tweak it.
While the usuals started — Sam Schlueter at left tackle, Blaise Andries at left guard, Conner Olson at center, Curtis Dunlap Jr. at right guard and Daniel Faalele at right tackle — Fleck rotated the guards on different drives.
On one drive, Andries would sit, with Olson moving to right guard and John Michael Schmitz playing center. The next, Andries would come back in, and Dunlap would cycle out, with Olson swinging over to left guard and Schmitz still at center. Then the original unit would return.
Fleck said he felt Schmitz gave the line some much-needed toughness while also giving some of the other linemen a break.
Before the game, the offensive line was helping the run game to just 2.6 yards per carry, one of the worst marks in the FBS. It had also allowed 11 sacks. Against Purdue, the line allowed four sacks, though sophomore quarterback Tanner Morgan’s pocket presence led to some of those, and helped the run game to 92 yards.
Senior running back Shannon Brooks made his season debut Saturday, just his second game in nearly two years because of injuries. He put together five carries for 5 yards.
“It was good to get him back,” Fleck said. “I think this was a great game to get back on the field and get him loose. He missed some cuts, missed some holes, but he’s so full speed all the time. He hasn’t played football in a while. So we’ve got to get him back into that.”
The Gophers had myriad injured players ahead of the bye week, and all returned Saturday. Martin was back from a foot sprain and senior running back Rodney Smith from a oblique strain. Freshman running back Cam Wiley, who had a concussion, didn’t play but did warm up. And sophomore running back Mohamed Ibrahim checked into the game but didn’t make any carries. Fleck said Ibrahim will be back to full strength after his leg issue next week.