Turnover-ridden game leaves Gophers with second consecutive loss

Gophers won the turnover battle 4-2, but still lost to Boilermakers.

Defensive backs Adekunle Ayinde and Antonio Shenault celebrate a successful play on Sept. 30 at TCF Bank Stadium.

Jack Rodgers

Defensive backs Adekunle Ayinde and Antonio Shenault celebrate a successful play on Sept. 30 at TCF Bank Stadium.

Drew Cove

The Gophers did what head coach P.J. Fleck preaches every week — they won the turnover battle.

But that didn’t help the team pull off the win.

Minnesota (3-2, 0-2 Big Ten) fell to Purdue (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten) 31-17 Saturday after winning the turnover battle 4-2, but suffering one to Purdue in the last minute of play clinched the Boilermakers’ victory.

“[Rhoda] made a throw where he thought he could put it in there, and it didn’t work out,” Fleck said.

Minnesota only turned over the ball twice, but one sealed the defeat for the Gophers.

Quarterback Conor Rhoda and the Gophers were down just one touchdown with 1:17 to play, and Minnesota’s offense had to come back and tie the score to extend its chance at winning its first Big Ten game of the season.

Instead, for the second consecutive game, Rhoda threw an interception in the last minute to seal the victory for the opponent.

“[Rhoda] deserves [to lead this football team],” Fleck told reporters. “Just because he made a few mistakes, he’s really led this football team. He’s one of the real, big leaders we have on this football team, and the guys rally behind him.”

The Gophers gave up another turnover that hurt them more than it helped the Boilermakers.

Their first turnover to the Boilermakers was a run play by Rhoda, when he dropped the ball in the red zone at the Purdue 7-yard line.

If Rhoda held that ball, Minnesota could have had a chance at increasing its lead to 21-6 before the end of the first half.

Another instance that Minnesota could have capitalized on was another turnover in the fourth quarter.

Defensive back Adekunle Ayinde had a pass go through his hands, but couldn’t hold onto the ball, which would have been Minnesota’s fifth takeaway in the game.

Purdue then went on to take the lead 16-14 on a field goal on that same drive.

“We had to put one big drive together, and we knew we could kick a field goal and win or score a touchdown and win,’’ Rhoda told reporters.

One thing Fleck has preached all season, generating turnovers in the Gophers’ favor, worked – at least in the first half.

Minnesota’s defense stunted Purdue’s offensive production in the first half by forcing the offense into four straight drives ending with a turnover.

“You have four takeaways, you should win the game,” Fleck said. “[That’s] 100 percent my fault.”

The Gophers took advantage of Boilermakers’ quarterback David Blough early, forcing him to exit the game after just three drives, one ending in a touchdown and the others in interceptions.

Minnesota would score on those two turnovers, but would only score three points otherwise in the game.

Once quarterback Elijah Sindelar entered the game, Purdue’s problems changed from interceptions to fumbles.

His first two drives in the game ended when Minnesota forced a fumble, neither of which the Gophers were able to get points from. One lead to a punt and one lead to the Rhoda fumble.

“[It comes down to] execution,” Fleck said. “We have to continually find ways to create separation.”

The Gophers failed to produce any points for six consecutive drives after their last touchdown, and also failed to generate any more turnovers in their favor.

Since the offense wasn’t able to put together points on its own, Minnesota’s production stalled, and all it took was an interception in the last minute of play to put the game out of reach for the Gophers.

“Their effort was tremendous,” Fleck said. “When your opportunity comes, we [have] got to make plays. “