MINNEAPOLIS - The University of Minnesota football team was 4-0 heading into Purdue, out-scoring opponents by a combined 183-24 in the process. The Gophers were ranked for the first time in nearly two years, and it was Homecoming.
None of that mattered to Purdue in a 20-10 loss to the Boilermakers at Huntington Bank Stadium. It was Minnesota’s first loss of the season, and the path to a Big Ten West title got more complicated as a result.
All is not lost with seven games to play, but maybe don’t book those tickets to Indianapolis in December just yet. Here’s what we’ve learned about the Gophers after their first loss of the season.
MO IBRAHIM NEEDS TO STAY HEALTHY
One thing is clear after the Gophers’ first loss: They need Mo Ibrahim healthy the rest of the season. Ibrahim appeared to injure his left ankle in a win at Michigan State, a game where he ran for 103 yards and a touchdown. He practiced all week leading up to Purdue, was dressed for pregame warm-ups and looked ready to go. Ibrahim then stood and watched the game from the sidelines.
PJ Fleck said after the game he was close to playing, but the Gophers managed only 47 yards on the ground without him. They came in averaging almost 295 per game.
GOPHERS NEED MORE FROM OFFENSIVE LINE
Simply put, the offensive line has to play better than the effort against Purdue. In Ibrahim’s absence, Bryce Williams had 11 carries for 38 yards. Trey Potts had nine carries for 10 yards. The Gophers averaged just 1.8 yards per carry, after averaging more than five through the first four games.
Tanner Morgan also needs more time to throw. He had Brevyn Spann-Ford open for what would’ve been a touchdown, but was under pressure and got sacked. Morgan gathered his offense at one point in the first half and told them they weren’t playing hard enough. For the Gophers to contend in the Big Ten West, they must win in the trenches.
A BIG FOURTH DOWN CALL GOES AWRY
PJ Fleck took a big gamble in the first quarter, going for it on 4th-and-1 from Minnesota’s own 29-yard line. Wildcat quarterback Cole Kramer was stuffed up the middle for no gain, and a turnover on downs. If he looks to his left, there’s a big enough hole between the guard and tackle for a first down. Purdue turned the field position into a field goal.
Fleck is normally risk-averse in those situations, but the Gophers needed a spark after a slow start. The move backfired, but he said he would do it again.
DEFENSE NEEDS TO PRESSURE QUARTERBACK MORE
Danny Striggow and Trill Carter each got sacks in Saturday’s loss. Tyler Nubin and Jordan Howden each had interceptions, and Nubin forced a fumble. After a tough opening drive, the Gophers’ defense figured some things out until Purdue’s final touchdown.
Coming off missing a game due to a rib injury, the Gophers didn’t pressure Purdue quarterback Aidan O’Connell enough. Other than two sacks, he was hit just two other times. Minnesota’s defense played well enough for a win, but they’ll need to apply more consistent pressure up front going forward to get other offenses off script.
PATH REMAINS FOR BIG TEN WEST TITLE
The Gophers have a lot to fix after their first loss, but the bottom line is this: With seven games to play, there is absolutely zero reason to panic in terms of the Big Ten West. The Gophers are one of six teams at 1-1 in the Big Ten West. Only Wisconsin is 0-2, and Paul Chryst was fired as head coach Sunday night.
As frustrating as the loss to Purdue was, the Gophers are now on their bye week, and need to be ready to head to Illinois on Oct. 15. The Gophers and Illini are the top two teams in the Big Ten West, and the result will be a critical tiebreaker going forward. Minnesota also travels to Penn State and hosts Rutgers before the final four-game stretch at Nebraska, hosting Northwestern and Iowa and traveling to Wisconsin to end the season.
The path to Indianapolis is still very much in front of them.