WEST LAFAYETTE, IND. – The Gophers discovered the perfect antidote for their anemic offense, their maligned quarterback and their beat-up offensive line.
Give the ball to Shannon Brooks and let him tee off on Purdue’s woeful defense.
The soundtrack to the Gophers’ 41-13 rout sounded something like this: KA-BOOM!
“I’m a physical runner,” Brooks said. “I just try and run through people.”
He left cleat marks all over Purdue.
Brooks powered his way to 176 yards rushing and a touchdown on 17 carries. He churned out 121 yards in the second half — punctuated by a few road grader runs — to transform a close game into a breeze.
Brooks pushed, shoved and acted like a playground bully in punishing the Boilermakers.
“He’s special,” Gophers coach Jerry Kill said.
Kill challenged his offense this past week. Basically told them that they were about to become one-dimensional, if that’s what it takes for them to feel good again. “I don’t care if we throw it one time,” Kill said.
That formula probably won’t work against competent defenses that know how to tackle, but for one game at least, Brooks gave his struggling offense a recuperative spark.
Purdue defensive coordinator Greg Hudson, who once held the same role for the Gophers under Glen Mason, should burn the video of his unit’s effort in the second half.
Actually, his players should be forced to watch it while lying on their backs. That’s how they spent most of the second half.
Brooks knocked them over like bowling pins.
“Seeing yourself running through guys is a lot of fun,” he said.
The Gophers loved seeing that too after another sloppy first half. Their defense gave them prime chances to put Purdue in a hole, but the offense managed only 10 points against one of college football’s worst defenses.
The Gophers had three consecutive drives that started at their own 49-yard line, the Purdue 37 and the Purdue 37 again. They turned that glorious field position into seven points.
Their freshman locomotive fired up in the second half.
On the second play of the half, Brooks ripped off a 71-yard run that included a stiff-arm that sent safety Leroy Clark tumbling 5 yards backward.
Brooks came to a brief stop at the 50, cut to his right and accelerated down the sideline to the end zone. The play marked the team’s longest run since MarQueis Gray’s 75-yarder against New Hampshire in 2012.
The way this one unfolded, with Brooks refusing to be denied, gave the entire team a jolt. Six Purdue players got at least a hand on Brooks before he reached the end zone.
“The whole sideline went crazy,” Kill said.
Brooks knocked Clark on his rear again with another stiff-arm on a 25-yard run on the second drive of the half.
And the rout was on.
Brooks has turned into a nice find by Kill’s staff. He runs like someone stole his lunch money. He’s angry and looks to deliver punishment.
“There was one run for about 8 or 10 yards, he put his helmet in the middle of three defenders and knocked them right, left and right,” Kill said.
Asked if he would rather make a defender miss or run him over, Brooks said, “Run him over. Definitely run him over.”
Of course, it also helps that the opposition was Purdue, which gets run over a lot. The Boilermakers entered the game ranked 101st nationally in rushing defense at 193 yards per game.
They are not very physical, and Brooks held them accountable.
“Watching him break three or four tackles, it really makes blocking for him so much fun,” right tackle Jonah Pirsig said.
The Gophers offense needed a performance like that to gain some confidence and let them breathe again. They weren’t perfect and Purdue is the worst Big Ten team they will encounter this season.
But the Gophers have something to build on and someone to build around in Brooks and Rodney Smith, who was limited Saturday because of undisclosed health reasons.
“We can win football games, but that’s how we’ve got to win them,” Kill said.
Putting the ball in Brooks’ hands is a good place to start.