Something has to give vs. Purdue

Murali Balaji

Michael Dougherty
With a history of high-scoring duals, the 3-0 Gophers head to West Lafayette, Ind., for Saturday’s Big Ten opener against Purdue hoping to knock off the Boilermakers.
Purdue won last year’s game at the Metrodome 59-43, and the two teams have combined for 437 and over 5,000 yards of offense in the last five meetings.
Yet despite the high-output track record, Purdue coach Joe Tiller said he isn’t about to predict another scoreboard scalding.
“Usually when games go that way, it eventually turns around and goes the opposite and ends up being a 10-7 game,” he said. “But I’m so brilliant that last year I said that I thought this would be a 14-10 game, so that goes to tell you what I know.”
Despite his modesty, Tiller does know a little something about building a successful offense. And with Purdue’s successful “spread offense” facing Minnesota’s top-ranked run defense, both teams know something has to give.
Gophers on defense
The key to stopping the spread offense is to play physical bump-and-run coverage with the Boilermakers’ big receivers. And since the spread usually uses three and four receiver sets, the Gophers small secondary will be put to the test against the taller Purdue wide outs.
Purdue quarterback Drew Brees likes to use a three-step drop with quick strike passes — something which can best be defended by not allowing Purdue receivers like Isaac Jones, Randall Lane and Gabe Cox to get off the line of scrimmage free of contact.
KEY MATCHUP: If Carter, free safety Keith Dimmy and corner backs Craig Scruggs and Trevis Graham are able to contain the Purdue wide receivers, the Boilermakers will most likely turn to screen passes and off-tackle running with running back J. Crabtree.
This is where Minnesota may be the most susceptible. While they can stuff the run up the middle with some success, the linebacking trio of Parc Williams, Sean Hoffman and Ben Mezera lack the speed to stick with a quick back on the swing pass.
Gophers on offense
As Notre Dame exposed so well last week, Purdue’s biggest weakness is its inability to stop the run. The Boilermakers’ front seven is very undersized, making them vulnerable to big offensive linemen and a power running game.
The defensive line, led by end Rosevelt Colvin (3 sacks), is aggressive and gets upfield very quickly. The Gophers will need to rely on their ground attack in order to take pressure off of quarterback Billy Cockerham and, more importantly, keep the ball away from the Purdue offense.
Running back Thomas Hamner has been solid thus far, but backups Arland Bruce and Byron Evans could see more playing time with their ability to hit the holes quickly. Hamner may not have much success running to the outside, but he might be able to pick up large chunks of yardage running in between the tackles.
KEY MATCHUP: Gophers receivers vs. Purdue secondary.
When the Gophers go to the air, look for Cockerham to go with a short passing attack, utilizing the sidelines and the middle of the field. Wide receivers Luke Leverson and Ron Johnson will be counted on to catch many passes underneath coverage.
The secondary will not give up too many deep plays, but Leverson and Johnson, along with Jermaine Mays, will take what they can get. Purdue safeties Billy Gustin and Adrian Beasley are solid, but look for them to stack the line-of-scrimmage to try to contain the run. The receivers could be in for a big game if the rushing attack can keep the Boilermakers’ defenders on their toes.