Minnesota at Purdue
Time: 3:30 p.m. ET
TV: ESPN2 (Jason Benetti, play-by-play; Kelly Stouffer, analyst; Kris Budden, sideline)
Radio (Purdue): Sirius 81 / XM 81 / Tunein.com (Tim Newton,play-by-play; Pete Quinn, analyst; Kelly Kitchel, sideline; Rob Blackman, studio host)
More: Purdue defense ready for challenge | Tiller's great games at Purdue: 1997-99 | 2000-02| 2003-05 | Coordinator's Corner: Tony Levine | Purdue to honor Tiller | Mailbag: The status of Purdue's run game ($) | Media Mania (predictions) | Opponent view: Minnesota
Purdue running game vs. Minnesota against the run
The Gophers fared well in their first three games shutting down lesser opponents. But last week in their Big Ten opener, Maryland gashed them for 262 yards and 5.6 per attempt. Yet, the Gophers strength is up front with returning All-Big Ten tackle Steven Richardson and three returning linebackers. Couple that with Purdue having questions in its running game with the likely absence of leading rusher Tario Fuller and the fact it has struggled to run the ball effectively against its most difficult opponents Louisville and Michigan and the Gophers could have an edge. Will Markell Jones' return make a difference? Slight advantage for the visitors here.
Purdue passing game vs. Minnesota against the pass
Purdue needs to take full advantage of the Gophers' beleaguered secondary. With both of their safeties out and inexperience pervasive in the back four, expect the Boilermakers to pass early and often. Maryland didn't have to pass much because it ran the ball so effectively. Yet look for David Blough and Elijah Sindelar to be busy testing the Minnesota secondary, that is if the Boilermaker line can keep its quarterbacks upright.
Minnesota running game vs. Purdue against the run
The best thing co-defensive coordinator Nick Holt and the defensive staff has done has been its ability to get the Boilermakers to play with great effort and, thus, run effectively to the football. Past seasons and efforts are seemingly forgotten, and that is a good thing because Rodney Smith had 153 yards against the Boilermakers last year and Shannon Brooks posted a 176-yard effort at Purdue as a freshman in 2015. Purdue will also need to keep an eye on backup quarterback Demry Croft, who has missed two games due to suspension, who is more of a runner than starter Conor Rhoda. Minnesota managed just 80 yards rushing against Maryland.
Minnesota passing game vs. Purdue against the pass
How Purdue fares against the run may play a huge role in determining how it does against the Minnesota passing game. The fact the Boilermakers were able to get pressure last week against Michigan, especially early in the game, is key. Rhoda, a fifth-year senior, probably won't be fazed by a conference road game, but the Gophers lack experience and consistency at receiver. If Purdue can slow the Gophers run game enough, look for the Boilermakers to have the advantage here.
Both teams have been strong in the punting game, with Purdue ninth in the FBS in net punting, and Minnesota 17th. Gopher kicker Emmit Carpenter has been steady, hitting 6-of-9 field goal attempts, including an impressive 4-of-5 from 40-49 yards, while the Boilermakers' tag-team of J.D. Dellinger and Spencer Evans have yet to convert from greater than 38 yards. Purdue has struggled picking up much yardage in the return game, as has Minnesota, though the Gophers have had limited success in the kick return game with Smith and Brooks.
This one comes down to whether the Boilermakers use of the bye week provides the impetus for a return of the fire the program has shown for much of the first four games. Minnesota is dinged up, battling numerous injuries, but Purdue may have to manufacture some of the emotion it has played with because many of the students will be on Fall Break. Still, a bigger crowd than for any home game last year is expected, and despite the lack of students, the energy level for Jeff Brohm vs.P.J. Fleck Round 1 should be palpable.
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