Another one: Purdue dumps Gophers 33-28

by Michael Dougherty

A simple little postgame analogy from Purdue football coach Joe Tiller epitomized the Gophers this season.
“We couldn’t shake them, they were like a bad habit,” Tiller said. “They just kept hanging around and hanging around and we couldn’t separate ourselves from them. And that’s not what you like as a coach because it makes you a little nervous on the sideline.”
Tiller’s Boilermakers held off a late Minnesota scoring flurry to beat the Gophers on homecoming 33-28 in front of 48,869 at the Metrodome.
While the Boilermakers (6-3, 3-3 Big Ten) are by no means considered a Big Ten bully, they held Minnesota at arm’s length while the Gophers swung wildly trying to land a knock-out punch.
And despite landing some late blows courtesy of three, fourth-quarter touchdowns, Minnesota (5-3, 2-3) couldn’t bring Purdue down, continuing the Gophers’ bad habit of letting the upper echelon teams in the conference off the hook.
“I was telling the team, ‘I’m sounding like a broken record,'” Gophers coach Glen Mason said. “I’m saying the same thing week after week.”
What exactly could he tell them after the Purdue loss?
He might mention something about the defense holding Heisman Trophy candidate Drew Brees to 283 yards and two touchdowns on 28-of-41 passing. That’s 239 yards and four touchdowns below last year’s tally.
But then he might mention to his defense something about no-name running back Montrell Lowe rumbling for 127 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries.
But all he really needs to talk about is the fact the team came up short yet again at home against a ranked Big Ten foe in front of fans that are just waiting for the team to get to the next level.
“We keep knocking on the door and one of these days we’re going to get it open,” said Mason.
Who’s on the other side of that door? That’s a simple question — the teams to whom Minnesota lost.
Wisconsin is there. They beat the Gophers 20-17. Ohio State is there. They beat the Gophers 20-17. Purdue is there. They beat the Gophers 33-28. Penn State is there. They play the Gophers at home on Saturday.
And the five teams the Gophers have beat? They don’t even know where the door is.
At least for a while on Saturday it seemed like Minnesota was not only knocking but ready to tear the door down. But then the old habits came back to nip it in the bud.
Gophers running back Thomas Hamner scampered across on the second play of the second quarter to cut Purdue’s lead to 10-7. After the Boilermakers went three-and-out, Minnesota took the ball at its own 37-yard line and started knocking on the door.
A seven-yard Hamner reception. Knocking. A 10-yard Luke Leverson catch. A three-yard Billy Cockerham run. Knocking. Byron Evans snared a six-yard pass. Knocking. Hamner ran for six yards, then 10 yards. Knock, knock.
Now at Purdue’s 24, Hamner again took the hand-off and fought his way to the 16, but Boilermakers linebacker Jason Leorzel knocked the ball out of Hamner’s hands and defensive end Brent Botts fell on it. And with a big thud, the door was slammed shut and the knocking was over.
Even though Purdue was unable to capitalize on the turnover with a score, Tiller said the sudden change of momentum gave his team a “psychological edge.”
“Mistakes happen and you have to put them behind you,” Cockerham said. “We’ve just got to find a way to win. We’re getting better, unfortunately it’s not showing up in the win column.”
Hamner’s fumble overshadowed another strong game for the senior from Hamilton, Ohio. He ran for 166 yards on 20 carries and scored twice, once on a career-high, 60-yard run in the fourth quarter. He ran for more than 100 yards in every conference game this season, and went over the 1,000-yard mark for the season.
Hamner hung around outside the interview room with headphones on, listening to music while waiting for Mason to finish up with the media. But the coach took too long and Hamner left without talking to the press.
Like his team, he hung around for awhile but it just wasn’t long enough.

Michael Dougherty covers football and welcomes comments at [email protected]