When Markell Jones got into the end zone Saturday night, helping to deliver a win for the Boilermakers, he started gyrating, as he described it.
His celebratory jig wasn’t only for the Purdue win, but for himself too; it’s been a while since the running back has felt he could contribute to the Boilermakers, having been out the last three games and not much of a factor in the season-opener.
“I didn’t even know what type of celebration I did,” he said after Purdue's 31-17 win vs. Minnesota. “I just kind of went crazy, (almost) injured myself celebrating, but it was just so … (with) all the injuries and time off, it felt so good to get back in there.”
Jones was a big part of the Boilermakers’ afternoon-turned-evening victory, rushing for 52 yards, including the go-ahead 12-yard touchdown run with 1:17 left, plus having five receptions. It was a boost too for Purdue’s running game, which totaled 132 yards to give the offense needed balance.
“It’s huge, what a great player he is,” Elijah Sindelar said. “He brings a lot to the table. We can count on him. He’s a good back.”
Jones missed only three games — he injured his left knee on a kick return vs. Louisville in the opener — but it seems much longer since the junior has been fully healthy. He battled a bad shoulder last season, which he had injured early in the year, then had other ailments that kept him from 100 percent. He had only 35 yards on 22 carries vs. Indiana in the season finale last year, the lack of productivity a sign that his body was wore down.
Jones had hoped to be healthy this fall, and appeared so during training camp; then, Coach Jeff Brohm praised Jones’ work ethic, giving hope that the former standout as a rookie had potentially returned to form. But then he got nicked vs. the Cardinals, putting a halt on his progress.
‘It was tough,” said Jones, Purdue’s leading rusher the last two seasons. “I have so much confidence in the rest of the guys in our room that I wasn’t stressing too much. I was just listening to my knee and waiting until I got healthy, because I didn’t want to get out there too quick and then re-injure it and be out a longer duration. I was a little antsy.”
Purdue worked Jones in more frequently during the second half, when he had nine of his 12 carries and 39 yards, along with all five receptions. Then, on the Boilermakers’ final drive, he took a toss right, juking inside a cornerback on his way to the end zone. He said hadn't made the move on a third-and-goal earlier in the fourth, forcing Purdue to settle for a short field goal.
“That’s the thing with a running back, you need a few more touches in a row kind of to get in the flow of the game,” Jones said. “So it was nice to have them feed me a little bit more, so that I could get my feet under me and get my lungs back. That was a thing, I was breathing a little hard in the first half especially. It felt good to get a few touches in a row and build my confidence up.”
Purdue’s running attack Saturday had a bit of a throwback feel, back to 2015 when Jones and D.J. Knox provided the Boilermakers with a nice 1-2 combination. But Knox missed last season with a knee injury and Jones had missed most of this.
In the 31-17 win over the Golden Gophers, they combined for 108 yards on 19 carries.
“I think it comes with our experience. We’ve seen a lot of game time together and feed off of each other’s energy,” Jones said. “When I see him breaking off big runs and he sees me breaking a couple runs, I think it makes him want to work harder and it makes me want to work harder. That’s big, that competition. You have to step up and elevate your play when you see someone else doing well. He was playing well, so I had to step up.”
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