Quick Hitters: Gophers flip the script in big win over Purdue

The Gophers’ defense allowed an average of 43 points per game in Big Ten Play before holding Purdue to 10.

Jack Warrick

Final: Minnesota 41, Purdue 10

The Gophers’ defense shocked Purdue Saturday after allowing a season-high 55 points to Illinois the week before. After head coach P.J. Fleck fired former defensive coordinator Robb Smith earlier this month, the question on everyone’s mind was: “How is this team going to respond?”

The Gophers responded by restricting a powerful Purdue offense to 233 total offensive yards, with 88 coming from the rush game. The Gophers held the Boilermakers to 10 points on the third coldest game in TCF Bank Stadium history.

The offense followed the defense’s lead and tallied 41 points — the most since the first game of the season.Quarterback Tanner Morgan threw for one touchdown and an interception, completing 10-18 passes for 138 yards.

It was over when: 

Quarterback Seth Green lined up in the wildcat for two yards and a touchdown on the Gophers’ first offensive drive of the second half. His effort gave the Gophers a 27-3 lead with time to play in the third quarter.

Key play:

Linebacker Blake Cashman, a senior who started as a walk-on, ran down Purdue quarterback David Blough on the first drive of the second half. He forced a fumble and ran the ball 40 yards for a touchdown, starting Minnesota off well in the second half.

“I just sat there for the quarterback and [Blough] came. … he tried to stiff arm me. … I hit his arm down. And I saw there was an opportunity to go for the ball, so I seized that moment,” Cashman said after the game.

Five observations:

1. The defense is moving in the right direction.

The Gophers put former defensive line coach Joe Rossi as the new interim defensive coordinator last week, and it paid off. Minnesota held a productive Purdue offense, which had beaten ranked teams such as Ohio State and Iowa earlier in the season to 10 points.

2. Seth Green can do it all.

Green, who plays wide receiver and quarterback, completed a 11-yard throwing touchdown to a wide open tight end Jake Paulson for the first touchdown of the game. The Purdue defense left him uncovered as it suspected Green to do a quarterback keep, as he often does in goal line situations.

Green scored a rushing touchdown on the first offensive drive of the second half to give the Gophers a 27-3 lead.

3. Tanner Morgan is developing as the No. 1 quarterback in his third start.

Morgan started the last three games, winning two of them including the upset against Purdue last week. The Gophers needed him to play the second half of the Nebraska game when former starter Zack Annexstad suffered an injury. 

Morgan and Annexstad continue to battle in practice, Fleck said in a Tuesday press conference.

“He’s playing at a high level; I think he’s leading at a high level,” Fleck said. “Zack’s getting ready to be able to play again. Again, I’ll continue to evaluate that. It’s a quarterback competition that’s very healthy.”

4. The running game hasn’t lost its step.

After losing senior running backs Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks to injury, two freshman running backs have kept the Gophers on their feet. Mohamed Ibrahim was the work horse with 18 carries for 155 yards, while Bryce Williams tallied 68 yards on nine carries and a touchdown.

5. It’s hard to lose when the defense held Purdue 0-12 on third down.

Purdue, when faced with make-or-break, third-down situations, completed none of them in the loss. The Gophers’ defense has allowed 38 percent of third-down conversions this season, but allowed none on Saturday.