Oops! Mistakes hurt U at Purdue

Jeff Sherry

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — There was no finger-pointing, no single player or play to blame. And unfortunately for the Gophers football team, there was also no comeback.
“We win as a team,” defensive tackle Jerome Davis said. “And we lose as a team.”
Minnesota lost for the first time this season Saturday, and everyone on the team blamed themselves. Several players committed crucial mistakes as Purdue held off the Gophers, 30-27, at Ross-Ade Stadium.
With the exception of the outcome, Saturday’s game closely resembled the previous two for Minnesota. It featured big plays, bumbling errors and a frenzied finish. But this time a pair of dropped catches and a disputed pass interference call prevented Minnesota from bailing itself out on its final drive.
The loss left Minnesota frustrated, a bit angry and 0-1 in the Big Ten. Purdue improved to 2-3, 1-1 in the Big Ten.
“It shouldn’t have come down to the last drive and the last play,” Gophers receiver Tutu Atwell said. “We should’ve been putting these guys away like we were supposed to. They played pretty good defense, but we beat ourselves. We waited too late to come together.”
The Gophers scored midway through the fourth quarter to shrink an 11-point deficit to three, then held-up on defense to set up the game’s defining sequence. Purdue punted and Minnesota started its final drive from its 10-yard line with 4:32 remaining.
Minnesota started moving the ball, but things fell apart when the team reached Purdue’s 48-yard line. On second-and-seven, quarterback Cory Sauter threw a perfect pass to tight end Ryan Hubbard, who was open near the first-down marker. Hubbard dropped it.
On third down Sauter fired a pass to receiver Greg Nelson, who was also open near the first down. Nelson had to go down for the ball, but it bounced off the numbers of his jersey.
Fourth down brought controversy, and the end of Minnesota’s hopes. With 1:18 left the Gophers set up an in-route to Nelson, but when the ball arrived he was laying on the grass. Purdue safety Adrian Beasley defended on the play, apparently by knocking Nelson over.
“That was pass interference all the way,” Nelson said. “The defender tried to make a break on the ball, but he ran through me to do it. I guess the referee didn’t see it.”
Minnesota coach Jim Wacker said he thought everyone in the stadium saw the penalty.
“I would’ve liked to have gotten that pass interference call; it might’ve made all the difference in the world,” Wacker said. “(The referee) has to have the courage to make those calls. But regardless, you’ve got to win it. You’ve got to know things are going to go against you sometimes.
“It’s just tough to lose like that.”
Wacker acknowledged there was much more to the loss than the non-call. Sauter threw two interceptions — the first of which was returned for a touchdown by Derrick Brown two minutes into the game.
With Minnesota leading 16-14 in the second quarter, the Gophers committed their ugliest botch of the game. Derek Rackley sent a long snap high over the head of punter Steve Kemph and into the end zone. Kemph ran the ball down and punted it on the run, resulting in the Boilermakers taking over on the 19-yard line. Two plays later they scored.
Sauter’s second interception came on the following drive, at Minnesota’s 37-yard line. Purdue turned that mistake into a 27-16 lead.
Minnesota’s defense, despite allowing 196 rushing yards, played well enough to keep the Gophers within reach. The biggest test came from tailback Kendall Matthews, who took over Purdue’s lead rushing role after fullback Ed Watson hurt his left knee in the first quarter. Matthews proved more elusive than Watson and gained a career-high 131 yards.
Minnesota actually out-gained Purdue 390 yards to 287 yards. But that didn’t mean much in the end.
“The bottom line is to stop the opposing team from scoring, no matter how many yards they put up,” Davis said. “If it comes down to a bad play by the offense or special teams, our job is to hold them to a field goal or not let them score at all.
“We’re going to learn from this. We know we’re a lot better team than what we showed. And I refuse for us to keep our heads down after a loss like this.”

GAME SUMMARY
GOPHERS 6 13 0 8 — 27
Purdue 7 20 3 0 — 30

First Quarter
Pur — Brown 59 interception return (Arnce kick) 9:11
Min — Atwell 58 pass from Sauter (kick failed) 7:25
Second Quarter
Min — FG Bailey 36, 13:33
Min — Heath 72 punt return (Bailey kick) 10:16
Pur — Alford 42 pass from Reeves (Arnce kick) 7:50
Pur — Matthews 8 run (pass failed) 5:44
Pur — Matthews 1 run (Arnce kick) 1:21
Min — FG Bailey 25, 0:05
Third Quarter
Pur — FG Arnce 37, 1:26
Fourth Quarter
Min — Nelson 5 pass from Sauter (Atwell reception) 7:23
A — 44,908
T — 3:05

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS
RUSHING — Minnesota, Hamner 14-51, Sauter 10-17, Jackson 3-9, Evans 1-(-1), Nelson 1-(-5). Purdue, Matthews 30-131, Reeves 11-37, Watson 11-28.
PASSING — Minnesota, Sauter 26-40-2 319. Purdue, Reeves 5-12-1 91.
RECEIVING — Minnesota, Atwell 12-162, Kratochvil 4-52, Thelwell 3-50, Nelson 3-22, Hamner 3-24, Hutton 1-9. Purdue, Alford 3-76, Tillman 1-10, Olivadotti 1-5.