Gopher Rowboat Sunk By Tiller Torpedoes
Jeff Brohm tied his predecessor in home Big Ten victories on Saturday by beating the FIghting PJ Flecks 31-14 in an absolutely bananas afternoon.
Joe Tiller was remembered in Ross-Ade (Boilerdowd was on site and will have more on this) and the ‘97 team that started it all for Coach Tiller was honored as well.
If you missed the pre-game Tiller tribute video, check it out here -- and if you’re anything like us, you’ll get a bit choked up at this one.
But that game… oh, man, what a game.
Let’s be clear -- this wasn’t the prettiest game necessarily. But it was surely a game that the Purdue team of the last regime would have been rolled by halftime and have barely shown up for the second half at all. The Boilermakers played by far their worst first half of the season, turning the ball over four times before Minnesota turned it over even once. David Blough was not sharp, despite passing for a TD early to give Purdue a lead (followed by a missed extra point), 6-0. He then went and threw a couple of pretty horrendous interceptions -- they were jarringly reminiscent of 2016 Blough. In both cases, it was unclear as to what he saw or was thinking. So on came Elijah Sindelar and he was pretty sharp throughout.
Still, the turnovers continued as Sindelar was stripped as well. Minnesota was able to turn Purdue’s sloppy play into a 14-6 lead and they were driving for more late in the first half when they coughed one up themselves and Purdue was able to escape the first half only down eight. Which, again, given how poorly they played on offense, was pretty impressive.
Let’s be clear about something else…. As badly as the offense was in terms of being sloppy, they still were moving the ball. So for those comparing them to last year’s team, no, not really accurate. That said, last year’s team -- if they’d had this sloppiness befall them, as they so often did -- would have easily been down three or four TDs. That Purdue held tough is a credit to Coach Holt’s ballsy defense. Despite not having Ja’Whaun Bentley or Jacob Thieneman for the first half, they held firm and did not break. It was also impressive to see the defense play their brand of hustle defense -- and disciplined at that -- for all four quarters.
In the third, Purdue appeared to call their fun throwback play but the primary option wasn’t there. Sindelar went through his progressions and I’m not sure if he was an official checkdown or if he just got open, but DJ Knox took a short pass as he streaked across the field and turned it into a 22 yard TD reception. Purdue then chose to kick the extra point and trailed just 14-13.
The Gophers then went into a really conservative rowing, consistently calling draw plays and up-the-middle runs. Did they think they saw something they could exploit? Their two stout RBs -- Brooks and Smith -- both had long runs, 40 for Brooks (of his 116) and a 51 yard scamper for Smith (of 88 total). But for long chunks of the third quarter, it felt like Minnesota was trying to simply hold onto their lead, which struck me as really odd. I expected more aggression out of both a Gopher and humanoid Gopher PJ Fleck.
What started out as a beautifully sunny day grew more and more windy (kickoffs heading North were almost flying into the stands) and then more and more ominously gray. We then heard a lightning storm was heading in the direction of West Lafayette.
As the fourth quarter got going, Purdue drove into the red zone and wound up settling for a 19 yarder from JD Dellinger (pew! pew!). And then… it got ugly.
Ross-Ade was evacuated and we went into a weather delay at 6:22 PM. I can only imagine how the Gophers survived in their substandard visitors locker room.
It created this surreal waiting period that was a bit similar to a rain delay during a crucial baseball game. You really have nothing to do but wait. Or play tic-tac-toe:
Time ticked by as some huddled at Mackey, some at Mollenkopf and some at Chick-Fil-A. Eventually, the game was set to resume at 7:50 PM. Who would be left? Well, there was actually a pretty considerable return of fans to the stands as the two teams got loose again and play resumed under the lights.
Picking up right after Purdue had taken the lead, Minnesota’s offense came to life and left some of its super conservatism back in the cramped locker room. They chewed up more than seven minutes, going 17 plays, 62 yards and settling for a FG of their own. That damn missed extra point looked like it was going to haunt us all as the Gophers now led 17-16 with just 2:26 to go.
I don’t know about you, but I had this strange calmness come over me. For the first time since perhaps the mid-Tiller era, I looked at that 2:26 and thought… that’s plenty of time. And this offense can do this, no matter how clunky they’ve looked at times today. And that’s the essence of the man being honored in Ross-Ade, right? Joe Tiller’s teams were never really out of it, even if they’d looked lousy all day. What a cool feeling to have on the day Joe Tiller was being honored.
Then the Boilermakers did exactly what we all hoped and thought they might do...and what Cowboy Joe would have done. They tore ass down the field and scored almost too quickly -- 56 yards in just four plays and just over a minute. This followed a kick-ass return back to the 44 by DJ Knox who was seemingly everywhere in this game (56 rushing, 38 receiving, 79 returning) and was capped off by Markell Jones removing the drawers of Gophers DB Antonio Shenault.
Damn, that was fun to watch...as was the strike Sindelar then threw to Greg Phillips to complete the 2-point conversion and give Purdue a full TD lead.
Ah, but the ol’ too much time on the clock thing still lingered. Really, though, did you have any doubt’s that Coach Holt’s defense would handle things?
Minnesota scrambled and they were getting close, down deep into Purdue territory...but then one of the freshest guys out there (having stayed behind closed doors for the first half), Ja’Whaun Bentley, sealed it for Purdue. And he didn’t just do it with a clutch sack or even a pick. He did it by making the interception and then outrunning Minnesota WRs to being it back 76 yards to the house.
Sometimes we feel as if we shouldn’t be comparing to the Hazell era so much, but this early on in the next season it’s only natural to do so. While the 2017 team has the same record that the 2016 team had through five games, it couldn’t possibly feel more different. Winning in blowout fashion when things are working pretty well is one thing… but winning a game like this when they turn the ball over four times and shoot themselves in the foot in some crucial times (like INTs in the end zone, for example), well, that feels like the good, old Tiller days. It’s always difficult to win a game when you play a quality opponent and turn the ball over a lot. To be doing what Coach Brohm, Coach Holt and the rest of the staff are doing thus far with Hazell’s players is impressive.
It also brings me back to something we often said last year -- that we didn’t think there was no talent at all on those Hazell teams. Sure, they weren’t as deep as the power teams in the conference, but there was no reason they should have appeared to be as far behind everyone else as they so often looked. The Brohm Squad has closed the gap up nicely, and now Purdue is right there in the mix in the Big Ten West.