WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – This was a quarterback change Gophers coach Jerry Kill was happy to make.
For the second consecutive week, Kill pulled Mitch Leidner in the fourth quarter Saturday, replacing him with freshman Demry Croft. Only these circumstances were starkly different.
Instead of trailing by 27 points, as the Gophers did last week at Northwestern, Kill’s refocused team had built a 32-point lead at Purdue.
Leidner threw two touchdown passes, and Shannon Brooks scored on a multi-tackle shedding 71-yard run, as the Gophers pulled away for a 41-13 rout at Ross-Ade Stadium.
The Gophers (4-2, 1-1 Big Ten) were missing seven injured starters and four key reserves, but they got what they needed — a comfortable win. Their three previous victories were all three-point nail biters.
“We just had to get back to being who we are,” Kill said, after the Gophers rushed for 326 yards, their most in a Big Ten game since 2005. “We had a makeshift offensive line, started a true freshman [Tyler Moore at center]. But sooner or later, you can’t make excuses.”
Purdue (1-5, 0-2) tried to build off last week’s three-point loss to No. 4 Michigan State but fell to 1-17 in Big Ten play under third-year coach Darrell Hazell.
The first half was a dogfight, as the Gophers had another scoreless first quarter — the fifth time that’s happened in six games — before taking a 10-6 lead into halftime. They knew the first drive of the second half would be critical.
On that drive’s second play, Brooks burst through a wide hole on the right side of the line. Purdue had several chances to tackle him — six defenders put hands on him — but he broke away for a 71-yard touchdown.
“I’m a physical runner, so I really didn’t try and make a lot of moves,” Brooks said. “I just try and run through people.”
Brooks, a true freshman from Jasper, Ga., got the start at tailback and rushed 17 times for 176 yards. Rodney Smith, who dealt with an undisclosed health issue during the week, added 52 yards on 13 carries.
“When you rush for  yards, that really reflects on how you practice in a week,” right tackle Jonah Pirsig said. “The whole offense, I think we had a really solid week of practice, and it just showed here in the game.”
The Gophers scored 28 points in the third quarter. That’s more than they scored in any of their previous seven games, dating to last November.
Leading 17-6, Leidner rolled right on a bootleg play and floated a 3-yard touchdown pass all the way to the left, to a wide-open Brandon Lingen.
On the next drive, Leidner put a perfectly placed pass in Lingen’s hands for a 17-yard touchdown.
The Gophers came in averaging 34 passing attempts per game. But they averaged 6.8 yards per rush against Purdue, keeping the ball mostly on the ground. Leidner was 8-for-12 for 59 yards, with one interception.
Croft was 2-for-5 for 7 yards with his best play coming on a 34-yard run. The Gophers even gave third-string quarterback Jacques Perra a chance to play on the final drive.
“Guys brought a lot of juice,” Leidner said, speaking of the team’s enthusiasm. “And there was a lot of frustration taken out today. It’s just a mind-set that we need to carry out the rest of season.”
Purdue’s offense hit a wall after driving 75 yards for a touchdown on the game’s opening drive. The Boilermakers then went 11 consecutive drives without a point.
Purdue redshirt freshman quarterback David Blough had a nightmarish day, completing 21 of 49 passes for 207 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions.
Jalen Myrick had two of those interceptions and returned the second one 27 yards for a touchdown.
Asked if his team had its identity back, Kill said, “We will find out next week [against Nebraska].
“I think it kind of reminds me of a couple of years ago when our guys went to Northwestern and got after it,” Kill said of the team’s turnaround win in 2013. “I hope this will get us on a roll.”