Gophers, Purdue take offensive show to new level

by Todd Zolecki

Football games between the Gophers and Purdue have been a little out of control the past three years.
It’s not what you’d expect from two teams who have struggled to get out of the conference basement. But for whatever reason the two have put together some exciting conference games.
The Boilermakers host Minnesota on Saturday at Ross-Ade Stadium in West LaFayette, Ind.
It’s a safe bet that even Nostradamus, Jimmy the Greek and a handful of friends from the Psychic Network couldn’t have forecasted a series of contests like these.
Since 1993 it seems Minnesota and Purdue decided that defense is too boring. Instead they relied completely on offense to win. The results were three high-scoring affairs with unbelievable conclusions.
“I’ll bet you in the history of college football there’s never been a three-game series as wild and wooly as this,” Gophers coach Jim Wacker said. “I can’t imagine it. The kind of yardage, the kind of points, it couldn’t have ever happened before.”
The two teams have combined for 278 points and 3,356 yards of total offense. The Gophers won two of those games, both of which were played at the Metrodome.
The ruckus all started when the Gophers edged the Boilermakers 59-56 at the Dome in 1993. The score reflected more of a low-scoring men’s basketball game between Clem Haskins and Gene Keady, two coaches who pride themselves on defense.
But this was Jim Wacker and Jim Colletto, two coaches who have had difficulty putting together a strong defense.
A year later the Boilermakers beat Minnesota 49-37 at Ross-Ade. Last season the Gophers won 39-38 when the Boilermakers missed a last-second attempt at a game-winning field goal.
So what’s in store this year? Put Dionne Warwick and all the Psychic Friends in one room and they couldn’t come up with an answer.
“Who knows how these games are going to turn out,” Colletto said. “We’ll see. Maybe it will rain a lot and it will get real slow and they can’t throw the ball.”
Throw the ball? In the past the teams didn’t need to produce through the air. The coaches let their star running backs, Chris Darkins and Mike Alstott, out of their cages and let them go to work.
Alstott, now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, scored 13 touchdowns against Minnesota during his four-year career. The last time both teams met in Ross-Ade, he scored four times and ran for 183 yards.
That left Wacker with this to say about the real-life version of Paul Bunyan.
“He ran through us like cheese through a goat,” he said. “I’ve never seen a guy break that many tackles. It was like trying to tackle an oak tree.”
Gophers’ defenders still remember trying to bring down the powerful runner.
“He was so big it was hard to tackle him,” Gophers linebacker Ben Langford said. “You couldn’t put your arms around him. People say, `Wrap up and tackle.’ Well, hell, he was so big we couldn’t get around him.”
Darkins, a Green Bay Packer, scored six touchdowns and gained 725 yards in his career against Purdue.
But now that both are gone things might finally go back to normal. Perhaps a 14-7 game isn’t out of the question.
Langford wouldn’t mind a defensive game.
“We don’t want to give up 500 yards again,” he said. “We’re not planning on it.
“We’ve got to get prepared for these guys just like we do with everyone else. We have to stop them. If we do that, we win.”