Big plays, running game key Gophers win

The Gophers ran for a season-high 207 yards in Saturday’s victory over Purdue.

by Austin Cumblad

It took six minutes. Six minutes to go from âÄúuh ohâÄù to âÄúoh yes.âÄù Six minutes to turn a 10-point deficit to a 4-point lead. Six minutes to begin a two quarter stretch during which the Gophers would outscore Purdue 35-3 . The run was more than enough for Minnesota to win its first homecoming game since 2006 and the inaugural homecoming at TCF Bank Stadium, 35-20. A frigid Saturday that began shakily finished in exactly the fashion the Gophers needed with back-to-back games at Penn State and Ohio State looming. âÄúIt was huge, especially with our next two road games,âÄù senior linebacker Lee Campbell said about the significance of bouncing back from last weekâÄôs 3-point loss at home to Wisconsin. Huge, but not always pretty, especially early. MinnesotaâÄôs first offensive drive stalled quickly. On a third-and-3 and the fourth play from scrimmage, junior quarterback Adam Weber missed an open Troy Stoudermire and the Gophers punted away. Purdue drove down for a 43-yard field goal. On the first play of MinnesotaâÄôs next possession, Weber overthrew tight end Nick Tow-Arnett. The pass was intercepted by Torri Williams. This time, the Boilermakers turned it into 7 points and a 10-0 lead. Weber never got much better. He attempted just nine passes. Two were intercepted. He completed five for 74 yards; the longest a 47-yard strike to senior wide receiver Eric Decker that put the Gophers on the 1-yard line and in position for their first score of the game. By his standards, DeckerâÄôs day was below average as well. He caught three passes for 50 yards. âÄúIâÄôm going to be very frustrated with myself,âÄù Weber said about how he will react when he reviews tape. âÄú[Offensive coordinator Jedd] Fisch was giving our offense an opportunity to make some big plays, and I just wasnâÄôt able to execute.âÄù Most days, as Weber and Decker go, so goes the offense. On this day, however, Minnesota rushed for 207 yards , its highest total in two years. Redshirt freshman Kevin Whaley rushed for 79 yards and his first career touchdown, averaging nearly 10 yards per carry in the process . For only the fourth time in head coach Tim BrewsterâÄôs tenure, the ground game outgained the passing game. Regularly working from short fields, the Gophers for once did not need to rely on the dynamic Weber-Decker duo. Instead, Minnesota relied on defensive and special team turnovers that set up easy scoring opportunities. Three touchdown drives started inside PurdueâÄôs 35-yard line . In the second quarter, just four plays after the Gophers trimmed PurdueâÄôs lead to 10-7, quarterback Joey Elliott tried to dump the ball to running back Ralph Bolden near the line of scrimmage, but Campbell stepped into the passing lane. The middle linebacker returned the interception 32 yards to the BoilermakersâÄô 2-yard line, setting up an easy score. Campbell played a supporting role in 7 of MinnesotaâÄôs 21 third quarter points as well. He blocked a 38-yard field goal attempt by PurdueâÄôs Carson Wiggs. The ball caromed across midfield, and senior cornerback Traye Simmons tracked it down and ran 47 yards for MinnesotaâÄôs first blocked field goal return for a touchdown since Oct. 21, 1989. The penetration was so good that Campbell said the ball hit him in the helmet, which explains why the ball ended up so far downfield before Simmons scooped it up. Add 11 tackles to the interception and blocked field goal and Campbell had quite a day. âÄúWhen you think about all the good football teams that youâÄôve seen through the years, you see a defense thatâÄôs led by a fiery middle linebacker,âÄù Brewster said. âÄúAnd our guy is a fiery middle linebacker. He may not be the most talented guy in the world but IâÄôll tell you what, he gives you his heart on every snap.âÄù Special teams, both actively and passively, set up two more quick scores. MinnesotaâÄôs first score of the second half was a 2-yard rush by Weber set up by a shanked 7-yard punt and a 28-yard scamper by Whaley . And on the ensuing kickoff, redshirt freshman linebacker Keanon Cooper forced a fumble that was smothered by sophomore Bryan Klitzke. Five plays later, the Gophers were in the end zone again. For most of the second half, Cooper relieved senior Nate Triplett, who re-aggravated a shoulder injury suffered a week ago against Wisconsin, of outside linebacker. He recorded 10 tackles and a sack . âÄú[TriplettâÄôs] having an All-Big Ten, possibly All-American season,âÄù Cooper said. âÄúThe better I play the more he gets to stay out and rest, so IâÄôm just maximizing my role.âÄù