Minnesota defeats Purdue 44-31 behind career day from Smith

The Gophers won their fourth game in a row after getting booed at halftime.

Gophers running back Rodney Smith scores a touchdown in the second quarter of their game against Purdue at TCF Bank Stadium on Nov. 5, 2016.

Meagan Lynch

Gophers running back Rodney Smith scores a touchdown in the second quarter of their game against Purdue at TCF Bank Stadium on Nov. 5, 2016.

Jack White

Running back Rodney Smith sat out for a brief period of Saturday’s game against Purdue with a twisted ankle.

But that didn’t stop him from having a career day.

Smith had 153 yards on the ground and three touchdowns — both career highs — to help Minnesota to a 44-31 victory on Nov. 5 at TCF Bank Stadium against Purdue.

“[Smith’s] a hell of a player,” said head coach Tracy Claeys. “He’s going to make plays, he’s done it every week, he’s tough.”

Smith’s second touchdown run of the day was a go-ahead score.

The redshirt sophomore rushed in from 7 yards to help the Gophers go ahead 30-28 in the third quarter, after falling behind 28-23 at the end of the first half.

Quarterback David Blough was the biggest reason Purdue kept the game close.

Blough threw for 391 yards, four touchdown passes and one interception. Blough’s four touchdown passes all came in the first half.

Wide receiver DeYangelo Yancey had two catches in the first half — one for 38 yards and the other for 60 yards. Wide receiver Cameron Posey also had a reception for 89 yards, which is the longest touchdown Minnesota has given up all season.

Cornerback Jalen Myrick was covering Yancey on his 60-yard touchdown reception.

“From my end personally, I just wanted to make plays,” Myrick said. “That’s what you got to do out there when you’re on an island going against a good receiver, but I just didn’t make the plays out there until the second half.”

Leidner had his first 200-yard passing game since the fourth game of the season. He threw for 231 yards and added 74 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.

His only interception of the game came at a bad time.

The redshirt senior dropped back to pass with 15 seconds to go in the first half. Leidner threw to a receiver that wasn’t looking, and the pass was intercepted and returned it to Minnesota’s 2-yard line.

“Obviously [the play] didn’t get communicated correctly the way that I wanted it,” Claeys said. “That’s my fault completely. That’s what I wanted to get done and it just didn’t get communicated that way.”

Purdue scored a touchdown on the next play to go ahead 28-23.

The Gophers jogged off the field at the end of the first half to boos from the crowd.

Blough’s only interception was on the Boilermakers’ opening drive of the third quarter. Defensive back Duke McGhee made the pick after grabbing the ball out of the receiver’s hands.

“I mean momentum’s huge in every game,” said linebacker Blake Cashman. “For [McGhee] to get that interception there right in that first series for [us], it was huge for us to get momentum back.”

Purdue’s offense stalled in the second half. The Boilermakers scored just three points in the final two quarters.

They also turned the ball over three times in the second half.

Running back Jack Wegher fumbled the ball on a key fourth-down play for Purdue. Cornerback Antoine Winfield Jr. recovered it with 2:34 left in the fourth quarter.

Smith put the game out of reach after the turnover, running in for a 14-yard touchdown to make it a 44-31 game in the final minutes.

“I didn’t have to do much. It was blocked well [and a] great play call,” Smith said. “[I] jetted away, jetted to the field and had a short edge. All I had to do was beat the linebacker.”

The Gophers got help from the special teams unit to earn the comeback win.

Redshirt sophomore Emmit Carpenter hit three field goals on the day, including two from over 50 yards.

“Offensively we continued to score points off turnovers and Emmit Carpenter … kicked the ball awful well,” Claeys said. “We were able to win and that’s the bottom line.”

Minnesota earns its fourth consecutive Big Ten victory with the win over Purdue.

The Gophers end their season with games against No. 9 Nebraska, Northwestern, and No. 8 Wisconsin. Minnesota is tied for second in the Big Ten West.

“We knew it all along we were going to have tough opponents at end of the season,” Leidner said. “We just got to keep continuing to prepare hard and really enjoy the process of what we’re about to go through.”