The Minny Predicto – Gopher It!
The last time Purdue and Minnesota got together was also in the house that Glen Mason built up in Minny. (Incidentally, I’ve been referring to Ross-Ade for a while as now being the smallest venue in the Big Ten outside of Ryan Field, but that’s no longer true. Our new members play in smaller locales and TCF Bank Stadium is also smaller, holding a tidy 52,525.)
It was also essentially Danny Hope’s death knell at Purdue. Some can argue that losses to programs like Rice were the tipping point, but that’s not the case. Purdue went into that game on Oct 27, 2012 with a 3-4 record and having lost three in a row to Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio State. The OSU game was the Kenny Guiton comeback game where Purdue blew what appeared to be a sure road win at the Shoe in the final seconds.
Minnesota wasn’t particularly good in 2012, 4-3 at that point and also having lost three straight. But they came out and absolutely blew the doors off Purdue, getting out to a devastating 44-7 lead before Robert Marve finally became Purdue’s QB for the rest of Danny Hope and Gary Nord’s tenure and, on this day, led a comeback of sorts that made the final score at least respectable-ish.
It was after this game, we believe, that Morgan Burke made the decision to move in a new direction with the coaching staff. What’s the point in all of this? Well, wouldn’t it be interesting if Purdue could bookend the time between then and now with a game that cements our belief that Coach Hazell has things heading back up the spectrum of success? That opportunity exists here. Let’s see what the boys say.
Hanky Hankster (RRT):
Purdue has posted a winning record in conference play only three times in the last 14 years. Haven't finished the season ranked since 2003. Once went 16 years between bowl wins. Has never won the conference title outright (61 years!).
At 591–527–48 all-time (not including this season) Purdue is a solidly mediocre football program historically. Purdue fans have sort of internalized this to some extent, but there's always been something for Boilermaker fans to hang their hat on. The Cradle of Quarterbacks, the Den of Defensive Ends...this program has been well represented at the highest levels of football, and every once in a while, a special season is put together. Purdue will never be Alabama, but more often than not (especially in the Joe Tiller era, despite those teams' inability to get over the hump) there's been plenty to be proud of.
So what's been most depressing in the post-Tiller era hasn't necessarily been the losing (although that hasn't helped), but the manner in which this team lost games. They'd get up and shock Ohio State, then turn around and get beat by the likes of Northern Illinois, Rice, and Toledo. Those wild swings were indicative of an undisciplined program, the extent of which has been well-documented. Regardless, when Darrell Hazell was hired and came in preaching discipline and professionalism, he was widely lauded.
Cultures, however, are hard to change, as we saw a definite struggle last year as players who had already been in the system for three or four years now had to adapt. That's not to say that there was outright conflict between the coaching staff and the upperclassmen, but results were mixed.
And after watching the last five seasons of poor, undisciplined football, as a fan you get to the point where that's what you expect. You see a fast start and expect things to go to hell around the third quarter. You see a slow start and already count the team out of the game. Because that's what we're used to seeing.
Which is why the Michigan State was both refreshing and surprising. By all rights, MSU should have made quick work of Purdue and coasted to a victory. But even as they came out to a fast start, Purdue didn't roll over. Despite a terrible third quarter, Purdue was in that game until the very end. Whether you want to chalk that up to a new quarterback, or a new coaching staff, or whatever else, the game last Saturday was different enough from what we've come to expect as normal that it gives us hope that maybe enough progress has been made on the momentous task of changing the culture around this program that we may soon see some tangible, on-the-field returns on the investment in Darrell Hazell.
Regarding Minnesota, they sit at a surprising 5-1, but it's still hard to get a read on this team. Their only loss came at the hands of TCU, who two weeks ago beat Oklahoma (then ranked #4). Their wins aren't that impressive though, beating Michigan and Northwestern in Big 10 play. Michigan is a dumpster fire, and Northwestern has been struggling (great defense, awful offense). Regardless, you can only play the schedule you have, and Minnesota has taken care of business.
They'll run the ball well and they'll play good defense, the old formula for success in football. They don't have a very scary passing attack, so it'll be on Purdue's front seven to step up. What concerns me the most is how thin Purdue is along the front seven, especially the linebackers. A good rushing attack will wear down a defense, and Purdue simply doesn't have the depth to keep fresh bodies in.
The offense can help the defense by sustaining longer drives and converting on scoring opportunities when they arise, something that they have struggled with at times in the past few weeks.
I'll give Purdue the benefit of the doubt this week and take them in a close one:
Purdue 24 Minnesota 23
A couple of years ago, all you needed to know about the Gophers was that they had fired a bad coach and replaced him with a guy who seemed like a pretty cool guy, but occasionally he had health issues on the field. (Hopefully the worst of that is behind Kill.) Sure, Kill had slowly improved every team he'd coached, but can you really take a guy with just one good season in the MAC and expect him to succeed in the Big Ten? (Yes, I just went there. You'll see why.)
As it turns out, maybe you can. The 2014 Minnesota team looks like a mirror image of some of the Purdue teams from the 2000s: a solid running game, a questionable passing game, and a backloaded schedule that ensures we won't really know what kind of team they are until it's too late. The Gophers could stumble against Ohio State, Nebraska, and Wisconsin, but even so, an 8-4 regular-season record isn't out of the question. The Gophers haven't won 8 games in back-to-back seasons since 2002-03, years in which Glen Mason's teams finished with run-of-the-mill bowl wins. If Kill can manage that this season, the rebuilding process could be considered a success. That would be a far cry from the program's peak - did you know that Minnesota's won 4 national titles in football? No, you did not, because you're not familiar with football in the days when the Big Ten really couldn't care less about the rest of the football world - but nobody expects that these days.
Minnesota's defense is like Iowa's in that it's pretty good and relies on taking big plays away from you, daring you to string together long, methodical drives. Also like Iowa, their offense isn't particularly exciting, although unlike the Hawkeyes, the Gophers don't even frequently churn out those same methodical drives that their defense allows. They basically score randomly: sometimes a long drive, sometimes a short drive, and sometimes off special teams.
The short drives, in particular, are the keys, especially against the Gophers. TCU scored 24 of their 30 points on drives that started in Minnesota territory. Force turnovers, and you take away Minnesota's strength, the ability to slow you down and make you work for your TDs. If you're looking for 80- and 90-yard scoring drives, it'll be a long afternoon.
Purdue Offense 2.0 doesn't have enough data for us to really draw conclusions about what they can and can't do. All five TD drives against Illinois were explosive drives (10+ yards per play), but the Boilers never started a drive in Illini territory, so they kind of had to be explosive. Last week, Purdue's only drive in MSU territory was courtesy of a coaching decision straight out of the "Don't Cover The Spread" school of thought: that drive, plus two of three other TD drives, were also 10+ yards per play, and the fourth TD drive was 9.0. That doesn't mean that Appleby can't lead a methodical drive (you don't want your offense to deliberately take more plays to score, after all), just that the situation hasn't arisen yet.
Similarly, the metrics that say Purdue's offense is average (61st of 126 in FEI) are looking at the entire season, not just the last two weeks. Can the Boilers move the ball like that week in and week out, or was last week an anomaly? Will the Purdue defense turn out to be the weak link, if we discover that the thing that fixed the offensive issues was a change at QB?
It's too soon to say. At this point, pretty much anything is a guess. Does Purdue look like a completely different team? Yes. Does Minnesota look like a bowl-bound team? Yes. Is this going to be like a pinball Purdue-Minnesota game? No. (Scoreboard and website operators across the country sigh in relief.) Is it going to be like the 1990 or 1991 games, in which the two teams combined for 35 points in those two years? No. (Oddly, those eras basically touch. From 1993 through 2007, in 13 games - they didn't play in '03 or '04 - Minnesota scored 21 points or more on Purdue 12 times ... and lost 9 of those games. In that same era, Purdue scored 30 or more against the Gophers 9 times ... and won all three games where they scored fewer than 30.)
Analysts hate these games ... so let's go to Vegas and check the books. Even that doesn't help. Minnesota's a heavy favorite, as you'd expect from a home team playing a struggling team. The spread's dropped a bit but is still comfortably in double digits. Both teams have covered each of their last two games and have failed to cover only twice this year. So ... I don't know. The one good thing from this is that ESPN's NumberFire says the team most similar to Purdue is 2008 Mississippi State. Would we like 2020 Purdue to be like 2014 Mississippi State? Yes, please. For now, let's say the Boilers cover but can't quite pull out the win.
Repeat of 11/9/1974:
Purdue 20 Minnesota 24
Aneesh the Swamy:
As I was thinking about this delightful preview blurb, my initial thoughts went something like this:
Hmm…Minnesota is a surprising 5-1 and could make some of the top dogs in the Big Ten sweat. Well, I guess I’m only assuming that, because I’ve only actually seen them play against a Michigan Wolverines team in historical shambles, and a few minutes against a good Northwestern team. So, how many non-dumpster fire teams have they beat?
Eastern Illinois is a respectable FCS team, right? Oh, they’re 1-5? Huh. Maybe Middle Tennessee is…ok maybe I’ll quit while I’m ahead there. TCU is the #12 team in the country and beat Oklahoma two weeks ago, so no shame in that loss. San Jose State is an anonymous Mountain West team. Brady Hoke barely qualifies as a functioning human being at this point. So…Northwestern?
Don’t get me wrong…I’d kill for a Purdue home victory against a pretty frisky Northwestern. But that 5-1 record is so incredibly inflated, and Minny’s schedule going forward (Purdue, @Illinois, Iowa, OSU, @Nebraska, @Wisconsin) basically has them penned in for a bowl game before they possibly have their confidence destroyed with that last stretch. Color me jealous, but definitely not scared.
With a passing frequency that ranks last in the conference, RB David Cobb is the motor of their team, and I would be surprised if a Sean Robinson-less linebacking corps did much to slow him down at all. I can, however, see Frankie Williams benefiting from a QB Mitch Leidner mistake to limit the young quarterback’s rising confidence after last week’s solid performance.
If all of this sounds rosy so far, it’s because we haven’t got to the defensive side of the ball. Minnesota boasts NFL-level talent at the linebacker and cornerback positions, which will definitely prevent Austin Appleby from going deep with any appreciable frequency. Hopefully, John Shoop sticks with the quick-passing gameplan that worked against an impressive Michigan State defense, and trusts Appleby’s decision making and the receivers’ ability after-the-catch. Forcing the defense to respect Akeem Hunt might give Austin a few extra milliseconds in the pocket, and the recently-wonderful offensive line has been up to that challenge. Unfortunately, I think Minnesota’s talent stops Hunt and Keyante Green and Appleby won’t be up to the challenge against this grind-it-out team. But I do think the Boilermakers keep it close, and show that growth does come one very small step at a time.
Basically, it seems like 2014 Minnesota is a continuation of Jerry Kill’s 2013 Golden Gopher team: a young defensive team that grinds wins against every lesser opponent, might steal one game if a ranked foe slips, and ride the Kill-train to a decent bowl. Again, color me jealous, because it looks like they’ve found a definite winner in Coach Kill and have plenty of room to grow in the next couple of years.
Spread: Minnesota -14
Minnesota 21 Purdue 17
All the good feeling of the past couple of weeks vanishes if Purdue gets throttled at Minnesota. Sure, there will be those who excuse it as a road loss vs a 5-1 team, but this is a 5-1 team that can be beaten. This is the kind of 5-1 team we’re familiar with in West Lafayette, because we’ve seen this team before – getting fat on lambs in the non-con before facing the lions in the conference season, particularly in the second half.
Minnesota is well-coached, focused and without a doubt heading in the right direction and Jerry Kill and his staff deserve all the credit for that. Tim Brewster left a steaming heap behind and they quickly got this program back to where people are legitimately excited to go watch them on Saturdays. Hey, that sounds familiar and like something we’d enjoy being a part of!
Purdue has proven the past two weeks that they’ve got the horses to compete. And now they’ve got the mindset to compete and the focus is getting there, too. Challenges this week include avoiding a letdown after being up so high to face a top ten team and simply being consistent – do the things you do well for a third or fourth consecutive week. I’m sure this has been harped on all week. I’m also beginning to believe it’s sinking in.
Mistakes happen – I won’t be upset with mistakes. I will be upset if they’re mistakes we’ve seen before or if they’re simply a product of not being prepared. How many times have we said that? It’s getting old, but it remains that simple. Purdue can win this game and if they do, you officially have my permission to begin talking about a potential bowl. To be at that point, my friends, would be impressive.
Boilers keep the over-30 points scored streak going.
Purdue 31 Minnesota 24
I said it earlier this week as did J- for the first time in a few years, we have reason to believe that our Boilers will be able to beat an in-conference opponent on the road...perhaps even one that is pretty good.
Minnesota is pretty good.
They're well-coached and the team buys what those coaches are selling. And defense is something the staff in Minneapolis is pedaling.
Goldy is one of the best in the league defensively, allowing under 19 points/game...but when you look at their opponents, that might be part of the story. On the other side of the ball, things aren't great. In fact, they're the WORST in the league in total defense. Think about that- as bad as our Boilers have been defensively this season, they're a few spots higher than Minnesota.
So as Purdue has begun to find its identity offensively, they get to play a team that struggles on defense, seems like a recipe for deliciousness. But I'm not so sure that Saturday will be the tipping point that we've been awaiting for the good guys.
The lack of faith that's been built up in my sub-conscience for Purdue's defense has me doubting this week's outcome. I think Purdue will compete, I think the offense will continue to move forward...but allowing big plays on third down and not being able to get off the field will continue to kill Hudson's boys until something major changes.
Ironically, the defense has been deplorable as many in the Purdue fanbase can't get over the offensive coordinator's inability to game plan. Seems to me right now, the defense's inability to make adjustments is Purdue's biggest problem. While Wild Man Shoop's offense is beginning to look like a developing force.
If Hunt, Anthrop and Appleby stay in rhythm, this game stays very close to the end...One special teams play might be the difference-maker.
Minnesota 33 Purdue 30