Boilermakers perplexed by U

Murali Balaji

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Moments after its 56-21 trouncing of the Gophers, instead of being overjoyed, the Purdue football team was puzzled.
Players were scratching their heads at the fact their opponent was lining up in run-stopping formations and blitzing on more than half of the plays, even when the game was well out of reach.
Purdue head coach Joe Tiller also expressed surprise at the Gophers’ decision to continue playing man-to-man late in the game, even when it became obvious that the Boilermakers would continue to exploit Minnesota’s defensive schemes.
“I thought they would pull off a bit and play more zone,” Tiller said in post-game news conference. “They just kept blitzing.”
Quarterback Drew Brees, whose passing exploits made every national highlight reel, said he welcomed the constant one-on-one coverage the overmatched Gophers used to defend the Purdue passing game.
“That kind of plays right into our hands because we’re a passing offense,” Brees said. “We like to attack man coverage.”
Wide receiver Gabe Cox (6 receptions, 133 yards, 2 touchdowns), who spent most of the afternoon leaving the Gophers’ defensive backs in his dust, said, “We love when the cornerbacks play press.
“It was real fun. I could probably play another 60 minutes.”
Perhaps another hour of action would have allowed the Minnesota coaching staff to make the necessary adjustments to contain Cox and co.
To say that the Gophers defense was overwhelmed against a more talented, more explosive Purdue offense would be noting the obvious. But Minnesota lost big because of its unwillingness to go away from the original game plan.
The ineptitude shown on the defensive side of the ball was a case of deja vu. The Gophers played the exact same defense last season in a 59-43 loss to the Boilermakers, a game when then-quarterback Billy Dicken threw for five touchdowns.
In fact, Cox and receiver Randall Lane (6 catches, 137 yards, 1 touchdown) said their jobs were made easier by the fact that Minnesota’s defensive formations were carbon copies from the last time the two teams met.
“We were taking them deep all the time and they kept playing press coverage,” Cox said. “We said, `If they want it like this, we’ll keep taking them deep.'”
“Every time we came out of the huddle, they played man-to-man,” Lane said. “My eyes got big because I knew something big could happen.”
That’s not exactly the kind of respect that a (formerly) 3-0 team might deserve, but the Gophers proved that they are not yet a legitimate threat in the Big Ten.
Tiller laughed when it was suggested that Minnesota might have been using playbooks from last season to prepare for Saturday’s game. He refused to criticize head coach Glen Mason and defensive coordinator David Gibbs for their game plans, but did question the idea of using eight-man fronts to defend against three-receiver sets.
“They’re stacked against the run,” Tiller said. “(Safety Tyrone Carter) is a heck of a defender, but the last time I checked, he was a defensive back.”
Purdue’s offense is unique to the Big Ten. Most teams use five defensive backs and play extensive zone coverage in order to defend against Brees and his corps of receivers, but the Gophers thought they could get away with their basic alignment.
Minnesota is still first in the Big Ten against the rush, but the Boilermakers never even attempted to run the ball on a consistent basis. Their running backs are average, and no team — until Saturday — stacked the line to play the run.
“They’re known for their blitzing and their man defense,” Purdue linebacker Willie Fells said. “I just don’t understand how much they do it.”