U squanders several scoring chances in 28-15 loss

by Brian Stensaas

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – From Minnesota’s side of things, the only people who can view Saturday night’s 28-15 loss to Purdue in the Big Ten football opener as positive are those who left the office Friday afternoon with an otherwise poor draw of eight and five in the weekly office pool.

And in the end, the game turned out much like said scenario. Just when things appeared to be going one way, they turned right back around again.

Overthrown passes, dropped balls and a virtually nonexistent running game all wrapped together ultimately spelled doom for the Gophers at Ross-Ade Stadium as they allowed the Boilermakers their seventh-straight win in the series.

“From an offensive standpoint I am not very happy,” coach Glen Mason said. “We had inability to run out there. Their defense did well; we were off. That’s what it was. We just came up a little short.”

After Purdue (3-2, 1-0 Big Ten) marched the opening drive 77 yards for a touchdown, Minnesota’s first play was equally impressive.

Asad Abdul-Khaliq’s 45-yard pass to Antoine Burns somehow was hauled in as Burns made a one-handed snag at the Purdue 26 yard line. It appeared the Homecoming crowd of 56,839 was in for a track meet between two offensive minded teams. However, by the end of the drive, it was clear the Gophers’ shoes weren’t tied.

An Abdul-Khaliq fumble, which he recovered, and a holding penalty two plays later pushed Minnesota (4-1, 0-1) out of field goal range. Preston Gruening’s ensuing punt was bobbled by cover man Justin Isom. So rather than forcing the Boilermakers to start deep in their own zone, the miffed ball wound up in the end zone. It was a nasty foreshadowing of things to come.

The next three times Purdue touched the ball, it turned over possession to the Gophers. But rather than taking the gifts and using them to full potential, Minnesota tossed them aside like they were fuzzy bunny slippers from Aunt Clara.

Minnesota managed just 12 yards and six points on the three drives after the turnovers. On two of the three possessions, Abdul-Khaliq threw three straight incomplete passes.

“I wasn’t on,” Abdul-Khaliq said after finishing 16-of-48 for 233 yards. “Had I been, the game wouldn’t have even been close. Things didn’t go our way because of my performance.”

Thanks to Dan Nystrom field goal strikes of 38, 49 and 28 yards, the Gophers held a slim 9-7 lead at halftime.

But on the first play of the second half, Purdue safety Ralph Turner picked off an Abdul-Khaliq pass and returned it 21 yards to put Purdue up for good.

The running game was equally inept. The corps mustered a dismal 83 yards on the ground, the lowest total since a 55-yard effort against the Boilermakers in 2000.

“We wanted this game big time,” offensive tackle Jake Kuppe said. “I’ll go out 0-5 against them. We can never put it together against them it seems. I don’t know what happened. A lot of times we were forced with third-and-long and this isn’t a drop back and pass team.”

If there’s one thing Minnesota can take from the loss, it would be another solid showing from its young defensive lineup and a vast improvement in the kicking game.

Averaging 427 yards per game, the Boilermakers were held to 343 against the Gophers. And in addition to Nystrom’s three field goals, Gruening’s punt average Saturday (43.6) was over five yards higher than his season average.

Yet the few upsides aren’t nearly enough to wash out the sour taste left over from the missed opportunities.

“It’s very discouraging,” Mason said. “To have those chances and not score touchdowns against a team you know has a very potent offense, it’s disappointing.”