Purdue took its first loss of the season last week, a closely fought, one-touchdown game against undefeated Northwestern. The Gophers were hit with their own demoralizing blowout against rival Iowa. But Purdue is still in the West Division race, while the Gophers fall further behind each week.
THREE BIG STORY LINES
Purdue receiver Rondale Moore had an All-America freshman season before sitting out most of last year because of a hamstring injury. He opted out, then back into the 2020 season but has yet to play with a reported lower-body injury. If he plays against the Gophers, it could be a big Boilermakers boost.
While Gophers running back Mohamed Ibrahim is small but mighty at 5-10, 210 pounds, Purdue's Zander Horvath towers at 6-3, 230. Ibrahim has basically lapped the rest of the conference backs with 715 yards this season, but Horvath still averages 84 yards per game and nearly five per carry.
Gophers coach P.J. Fleck took exception to a Purdue player's reported comments ahead of last year's game. The Boilermakers player said their 2018 loss to the Gophers was the worst in Purdue coach Jeff Brohm's tenure, essentially because the Gophers weren't a good team. Friday's postgame could reveal more bad blood.
TWO KEY MATCHUPS
David Bell vs. Phil Howard
Bell averages about 10 receptions per game, 10 yards per catch and more than 100 receiving yards per game as one of the most threatening receivers in the conference. The Gophers secondary will have to stop him, thought it's down starting cornerback Benjamin St-Juste because of COVID-19. Howard will fill in again and face his biggest challenge in Bell.
Tanner Morgan vs. his receivers
The Gophers' passing game has not been what it was in 2019 despite returning Morgan at quarterback and conference receiver of the year Rashod Bateman. Route-timing has been off, Morgan's decisionmaking has skewed and the play-calling hasn't helped. They'll all need to work together to establish a rhythm and help Ibrahim.
ONE STAT THAT MATTERS
100 The number of receiving yards for Horvath on nine catches last week against Northwestern. Having a running back as a passing-game threat gives quarterback Aidan O'Connell an option beyond Bell for his Big Ten-leading 305.3 passing yards per game.
THE Gophers WILL WIN IF …
their offense finds itself. The tools are there, including talented players, to take advantage of a Purdue defense that allows 408 yards per game. But someone besides Ibrahim has to step up with the Morgan-Bateman connection becoming too predictable.
The BOILERMAKERS WILL WIN IF …
their offense keeps to the plan. They've been very good this year at what the Gophers did last season, producing a dominant passing game while mixing in effective runners. If Purdue takes the lead early and protects it like Iowa did, the Gophers won't be able to catch up.
PREDICTION Purdue 28, Gophers 14