Dominant defense shuts down Purdue

The Minnesota defense was without a doubt a bright spot of the Gophers 17-6 win over Purdue, helping out an uncharacteristically average showing from sophomore quarterback Adam Weber.

Matt Mead

The Minnesota defense was without a doubt a bright spot of the Gophers 17-6 win over Purdue, helping out an uncharacteristically average showing from sophomore quarterback Adam Weber.

When he walked into SaturdayâÄôs postgame press conference, Tim Brewster wasnâÄôt sure how many passing yards his defense had given up. He knew the number was low, but when the stat sheet was put in front of MinnesotaâÄôs second-year head coach a few minutes later, he could hardly believe it. âÄúI did not realize we held them to 109 yards ,âÄù Brewster said, shaking his head. âÄúThemâÄù would be the Purdue Boilermakers. They came into the weekend with one of the Big TenâÄôs top passing offenses, gaining 258.1 yards through the air per game . They left with 149 less than their average and no touchdowns, largely because the conferenceâÄôs second-leading passer, Curtis Painter, was knocked out of the game. The No. 20 Gophers, on the other hand, left with a pair of things theyâÄôre becoming very familiar with âÄî a 17-6 win and even more confidence on defense. Another four takeaways, another team managing less than seven points, another five sacks. If MinnesotaâÄôs defense wasnâÄôt so glaringly bad a year ago, this would be getting redundant. âÄúWe knew the offense came out a little slow today and we had to step up,âÄù junior cornerback Marcus Sherels, who had an interception and four tackles in his first game back from a shoulder injury, said. Indeed, if the defense took another step forward, the offense may have taken one back. Minnesota (7-1 overall, 3-1 Big Ten) struck quickly on the first drive of the game. A 71-yard strike from sophomore quarterback Adam Weber to true freshman Brandon Green, who had a breakout game in relief of the suspended Ralph Spry, set up a four-yard touchdown scamper by Weber.

Audio Slideshow by Matt Mead

After that, however, the Gophers had trouble putting points on the board. The usually sure-handed Eric Decker had an uncharacteristic game; the junior wide receiver dropped a few balls he usually catches in his sleep and finished with only 51 yards on seven receptions. And WeberâÄôs protection left much to be desired. When he wasnâÄôt being sacked a season-high four times , he seemed to constantly be under pressure, and statistically, the usually efficient quarterback had his worst game of the year. Of course, itâÄôs all relative. Weber was still 21-of-34 for 212 yards and orchestrated the touchdown drive that put the game out of reach for Purdue (2-6, 0-4). He broke off a quarterback draw for 39 yards, then threw a nine-yard strike to senior tight end Jack Simmons on the next play to stretch the GophersâÄô lead to 11 with 6:22 left in the game. âÄúI think we walked in the huddle and basically said, âÄòThe defense has been doing a great job taking care of us, and itâÄôs time for us to step up and make a play,âÄô âÄù Simmons said about the nine-play, 76-yard drive. Perhaps just as important as that drive was the fact that the offense took care of the ball. MinnesotaâÄôs only turnover was an interception with just over three minutes to play ; by that point the game was essentially decided. So while the offense may not have played particularly well, it played smart the whole game, something that canâÄôt exactly be said of the defense. Gophers defenders racked up four personal foul penalties for 53 yards. Add to those another 15-yard personal foul penalty on a kickoff and eight other penalties for 46 yards; thatâÄôs 13 penalties for 114 yards , numbers that could haunt Minnesota in future games. Why all the extra contact and resultant penalties? âÄúEmotions,âÄù Brewster said. âÄúThere were some sparks flying on that field.âÄù It was the Boilermakers who seemingly should have been letting their emotions get the better of them. Their head coach, Joe Tiller, is in his final season at Purdue; Saturday was homecoming at Ross Ade Stadium, and based on other Big Ten teamsâÄô records, SaturdayâÄôs loss practically eliminates the Boilermakers from bowl contention. âÄúThey were fighting their tail off for their head coach,âÄù Brewster said. âÄúThey were 2-5 coming in; theyâÄôd like to send Joe out with a bowl game, so we got a hell of a shot from Purdue today.âÄù Obviously, the Gophers were up to the challenge. And if a positive can be taken from the rash of penalties, itâÄôs that Minnesota is playing with passion. The Boilermakers may have been 2-5, but were probably one of the GophersâÄô more formidable opponents. âÄúTheyâÄôre a much better team than their record shows,âÄù Simmons said. He has a point. Purdue played Oregon, ranked 16th at the time, to a 23-23 tie in regulation before losing in double overtime. Other losses have come to the likes of No. 3 Penn State and No. 13 Ohio State âÄî in fact, the Buckeyes didnâÄôt even manage an offensive touchdown on the Boilermakers. And before Saturday, Minnesota hadnâÄôt won in West Lafayette since 1990 and had lost nine of its last ten to Purdue. When it comes down to it, the victory wasnâÄôt flashy, but it was another reminder that the Gophers are for real. âÄúWhat a gutsy, hard-fought victory today on the road,âÄù Brewster said. âÄúI just canâÄôt say enough about our football team. The chemistry and the leadership that we showed today was huge.âÄù