Linebacker Josh Aune might have technically made the game-saving interception against Purdue, but the referees might have played a bigger role in deciding the winner.

In Friday’s 34-31 Gophers victory, two controversial calls on Purdue’s last-ditch drive sealed the Boilermakers’ drop to 2-2.

First, receiver David Bell appeared to rip an interception right out of Gophers cornerback Coney Durr’s hands for a 22-yard gain. But a lengthy review overturned that, concluding the ball hit an out-of-bounds player.

The Boilermakers seemingly overcame that on Jack Plummer’s go-ahead, 19-yard touchdown pass to Payne Durham. Except that also didn’t stand, with Durham called for offensive pass interference for pushing off of cornerback Phil Howard, though it looked very minor.

“I think you know what I think,” Purdue coach Jeff Brohm said of the play after the game. “I don’t like it a lot. I can’t really comment on it. … I did not get a good explanation. Your guess is as good as mine.”

The Gophers, for their part, couldn’t quite explain it either. Howard said his job was to cover Bell, and he had to respect the officials’ call. He also pointed out the Gophers did still have to finish the game with the Aune interception. Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said he didn’t see the play live but from the replay he did see “a lot of contact.”

“I mean, especially when it benefits you,” Fleck trailed off, adding that plenty of calls have gone against the Gophers in his time. “… It could have probably went either way.”

Many absences

In addition to the 20-plus players the Gophers lost before the game from injuries or COVID-19 positive tests, they lost another two against Purdue.

Running back Mohamed Ibrahim stopped taking carries late in the game after being “banged up” early, Fleck said on the KFAN broadcast. He held Ibrahim out for precautionary reasons after he played through it for most of the game. Safety Jordan Howden also exited the game in the third quarter — Calvin Swenson replaced him — and jogged back to the locker room.

Tight end Brevyn Spann-Ford was also on the sidelines with his right foot in a boot.

End racism

The Gophers wore their gold jerseys but with different nameplates Friday. Instead of the players’ last names, above each number were the words “End Racism.”

Gophers players and the program as a whole have been outspoken this season about their dedication to ending social injustice. This started after a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd on a city street by kneeling on his neck in May.

Wide receiver Rashod Bateman changed his jersey from No. 13 to No. 0 to symbolize zero tolerance for racism. Wildcat quarterback Seth Green, Spann-Ford and Durr have publicly shared their own experiences with racism and participated in a pregame video discussing racism.

As a whole, the Gophers have started the HERE program this season, a monthly lecture series that teaches the team about systemic racism and encourages discussion of it.

Purdue star Moore returns

Purdue receiver Rondale Moore ended his season early with an injury against the Gophers last season. He came back against them in 2020.

Moore, an All-America honoree as a freshman in 2018, made his season debut Friday after dealing with a reported lower-body injury through Purdue’s first three games. Moore initially opted out of this season with COVID-19 concerns as a potential 2021 NFL draft pick before changing his mind. He had 116 receiving yards and 20 rushing yards, including one rushing score.

Purdue backup quarterback Jack Plummer was 35-for-42 for 367 yards, three touchdowns and the game-ending interception.