The Gophers football team can’t overlook Purdue on Saturday. The Boilermakers are 3-5 overall but can move the ball, with the best passing attack in the Big Ten and the sixth-best total offense.
They’re led by sophomore quarterback David Blough, who has thrown for 2,346 yards, 16 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. And the Gophers’ pass defense has been inconsistent this season.
The Gophers have three difficult games to end the 2016 regular season. They travel to No. 10 Nebraska (7-1, 4-1 Big Ten) on Nov. 12, play host to rejuvenated Northwestern (4-4, 3-2) on Nov. 19 and end the season at No. 8 Wisconsin (6-2, 3-2) on Nov. 26.
While the Gophers have taken their share of criticism for edging lowly Rutgers on a last-second field goal and not playing well in their nonconference games, they are two late-game possessions in losses to Iowa and Penn State from being undefeated.
This team is in control of its destiny. No matter what anyone thinks of the Gophers’ play thus far, they go to the Big Ten Championship game if they win their final four games.
Backs should thrive
The Gophers should be able to really pound Purdue with the running game. They come into the contest with the fourth-best rushing attack in the Big Ten, averaging 207.3 yards per game, while the Boilermakers are next to last in the Big Ten in run defense, allowing 250 yards per game.
The Gophers secondary will get tested. They currently rank 10th out of 14 Big Ten teams in pass defense, allowing 212.8 yards per game, and the Boilermakers, for all their faults, are first in the Big Ten in pass offense with 304.6 yards per game.
Big Ten Network commentator and former Gophers coach Glen Mason said this week that in his coaching days, he would have been leery of a team such as Purdue.
“They’re one of those teams that right now, if I was coaching, you’d be a little bit nervous about,” Mason said. “Because everyone will say, ‘Oh, they’re terrible,’ and you run the risk of your players thinking they have the game won because they’re terrible.
“You watch the tape and you’ll see they have talented football players. They might not be well-coached, might not be playing well, but they have more talent than you think.”
Gophers football coach Tracy Claeys talked about how the secondary has benefited by having senior safety Damarius Travis back this season after he missed most of last year because of a hamstring injury. He was granted a medical redshirt.
Claeys said Travis’ impact really has been felt as an influence on the team’s younger defensive backs.
“[Freshman] Antoine Winfield studies film and Damarius Travis has done a great job with him,” Claeys said. “We needed [Winfield] to come through, and he really did a nice job there. He studies the game and he’s extremely intelligent. It’s important to him. Kids like him and they know he puts in the work to get ready. Him and Demarius have gotten along extremely well.
“[Sophomore] Antonio Shenault is another one that has come along extremely well and played awfully well for us. You know, it all goes back to when we get [sophomore] KiAnte Hardin going back with [senior] Jalen Myrick and now at both corners, we can pretty much control some things.
“[Defensive backs] Coach [Dan] O’Brien and [defensive coordinator Jay] Sawvel have done a good job with that secondary as the year has gone on, finding out what they do best. Like I say, we have some spread [offense] teams left on the schedule and we’re going to need to play well back there. I think those guys are coming along at the right pace.”
Travis glad to be back
Travis has been everywhere this season with 52 tackles, including four for a loss, two interceptions, one fumble recovery and four deflected passes. He talked about how difficult it was to miss the bulk of last season.
“Very tough, extremely tough, because the guys I came in with left and those were the guys I wanted to end my Minnesota career with,” he said. “But I got another year. It was very tough mentally trying to get back, trying to get back healthy. But I overcame everything.”
By coming back, Travis had the chance to be one of the Gophers’ representatives at Big Ten media day before the season and he has taken on a big leadership role this year.
“I probably wouldn’t have had the opportunities after the season to do what I was able to do if I had played the entire year [last season],” he said.
• The Vikings shouldn’t have to worry as much about Lions defensive end Ezekiel Ansah on Sunday like they did last year when he had 14.5 sacks, including two in two games against the Vikings. That’s because after missing three games this season because of an ankle injury, Ansah still is looking for his first sack. He has only seven tackles in the five games he has played this year.
• Maybe the Vikings can find their running game against the Lions. After being bottled up for three quarters by the Lions last week, the Texans rushed for 73 yards in the fourth quarter to win 20-13. ... The Lions are last in third-down defense, allowing a 49.5 percent success rate to opponents. Opposing quarterbacks having a 113.7 passer rating on third down.
• Look for Eagan native and South Dakota State grad Zach Zenner with the Lions on Sunday. Zenner has rushed for 110 yards and one touchdown on 36 carries and also has six receptions for 69 yards.
• This might be hard to believe, but once upon a time Bernie Bierman and the Gophers football coaches discovered Purdue had rented an apartment across from the Gophers’ practice field, and a Boilermakers coach spied on their practices during the week before the teams played.
• Former Gophers track coach Phil Lundin, in his ninth season at St. Olaf, was named MIAC Men’s Cross-Country Coach of the Year.
• A pair of Gophers hockey recruits are in the top 10 in scoring in the United States Hockey League. Brannon McManus, a California native, has six goals and four assists in 10 games for Omaha, and Eden Prairie’s Casey Mittelstadt has six goals and eight assists in 12 games for Green Bay, which is tied for second in the league. … Goalie Ales Stezka, a Wild fourth-round pick in 2015, leads the USHL with a 1.01 goals-against average in five starts for Chicago.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. firstname.lastname@example.org