Gophers set to face Purdue after bye week

Michael Dougherty

The last five meetings between Purdue and Minnesota have been entirely dominated by the offense. But this year finds Minnesota hoping to rely more on its defense.
Since 1993, the two teams have rolled up 437 points and 5,104 yards of offense, and the Gophers went 2-3 in that span.
But now, Minnesota has the No. 1-ranked rushing defense in the nation — and that is not a misprint. The hard-nosed defense is giving up a stingy 56.3 yards a game on the ground.
However, Minnesota is giving up more than 245 yards per game through the air, something that Purdue’s high-powered spread offense seems likely to exploit on Saturday when Minnesota travels to West Lafayette, Ind., for a 1 p.m. game.
Gophers head coach Glen Mason said it’s his own offense that concerns him most, not the potent Purdue passing game.
“On offense we haven’t been very consistent,” he said. “We’ve had way too many missed assignments, and we’ve had way too many plays where we got minus-yards.
“Yeah, we’re 3-0, but I’ve made no bones about it — I’m pleased with the record, but I’m not pleased with the way we’ve been playing.”
Part of the problem with the struggling offense is the suspect corps of linemen, which Mason calls his biggest concern.
Despite the fact Minnesota is averaging more than 165 yards a game on the ground, Mason admits the Purdue run defense is a lot better than anything the Gophers saw in their first three games.
“With our vaunted rushing attack, I’m sure (Purdue’s) not sleeping at night thinking about it,” Mason said, tongue-in-cheek.
Those guys are good
Purdue is 2-2 with wins against Rice and Central Florida and tough losses to USC (27-17) and Notre Dame (31-30).
In the Central Florida game, the Boilermaker defense shut down early Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Daunte Culpepper and a high-octane offense to just one late touchdown in the 35-7 rout.
“They played a seven-man front with two-deep coverage, kept everything in front of them and played pretty darn well,” Mason said of the Purdue defense.
Mason also said he thinks that by playing more aggressively, the Boilermakers’ defense has improved over the squad that surrendered 43 points to Minnesota last season but still won.

They call me the Brees
Young Boilermakers quarterback Drew Brees is off to a good start, completing 88-of-143 passes for 982 yards and eight touchdowns.
The sophomore from Austin, Tex., runs the unique “spread” offense for Purdue coach Joe Tiller, and Mason said Brees is a big-time player.
“He throws the ball on the money. He always gives those receivers a pass that they should catch, not a pass that they have a chance to catch,” Mason said. “(Purdue’s) saying, `I think we’ve got a difference maker at this position,’ and I think if you have that difference maker at quarterback you always have a chance to be pretty good offensively.”
Bald is beautiful
When asked how he was able to nab Brees from the big-time recruiters in Texas, Tiller took all the credit.
“It was the charm and brilliance of the coaching staff of Purdue,” he joked. “Actually, it’s my golden curly-locked hair and my baby blue eyes I guess.”
Tiller, by the way, is, well, follically challenged.
That Hass to hurt
Starting tight end Alex Hass, who injured his ankle in the Sept. 19 game with Memphis, still remains a question mark for Saturday’s game.
His injury has opened the door for redshirt freshman Zach Vevea, from Elk River, to possibly make his first start.
“Alex Hass is day-to-day,” Mason said. “I’m not going to bet my money that he’s going to play, but then I again I wouldn’t bet against it.”
However, Hass’ battery-mate Cockerham said he thinks otherwise.
“I think he’s going to be ready to play,” the junior quarterback said. “He’s one of our best blockers on the team, he can catch as well as block and we need him out there.”
If Hass can’t go, Mason said he’s confident Vevea can handle the position.
“Zach’s progressing quite nicely and he’s still very young,” Mason said. “He’s getting thrown into battle because a couple of guys ahead of him got banged up. That’s why I always tell the guys, `You’re third string, but you’re only two plays away from being a starter,’ and that’s what’s happened.”