Purdue attacks by ground, Lowe runs by Gophers

Mark Heller

The Minnesota nickel and dime defenses, the three- and four-man defensive lines, the lack of pass rush and the 33-28 loss to No. 18 Purdue are all branches from one trunk: The Gophers couldn’t stop the run.
In a game that was hyped — and for obvious reasons — as the Minnesota defense against Drew Brees’ aerial assault, Minnesota (5-3 overall, 2-3 in the Big Ten) was plowed through on the ground.
And if it’s possible to make Drew Brees look even more like Joe Montana, give him 127-yards rushing and two touchdowns on 28 carries by freshman running back Montrell Lowe, including an 18-yard scamper down the left side to the Minnesota 8-yard line with just under two minutes left to ice the game.
“For Lowe’s sake, it would have been great if the turf monster hadn’t gotten him at the end because he had a heck of a day,” Boilermakers coach Joe Tiller said. “It would have been great to see him finish it off.
“We ran the ball probably as well as we can, particularly against that defense because it’s a very good run defense.”
Brees himself ran 10 times for a crucial 55 yards, mostly on quarterback draws. Purdue (6-3, 3-3) had 192 net yards rushing, still 63 yards fewer than Minnesota.
The Gophers began the game in a nickel defense and used six defensive backs the vast majority of the game. Since Brees threw for a school-record 522 yards and six touchdowns in three quarters during last year’s 56-21 spanking of the Gophers, Mason and Co. were determined to keep Purdue’s receivers in front of the secondary.
That left Minnesota’s front four to do most of the run stopping and pass rushing, the Purdue offensive line.
“I bet they were expecting us to just air it out because that’s what we’ve done the past two years,” Brees said. “We were just going to take what they gave us. They gave us the running game, so we’ll take it.”
Purdue took it and ran with it.
The outbreak of the Boilermakers’ ground game clearly threw Minnesota for a loop. Entering Saturday’s game, Lowe had just 95 carries for 471 yards in eight games, averaging a very respectable 4.8 yards per carry.
But he only averaged 12 carries a game, mostly because Brees and the passing offense is second in the nation with 347 yards per game. As a change of pace, Purdue started the game running and finished the game running.
“We don’t get a lot of practice with five or six guys in the box, compared to eight like we usually do,” Gophers linebacker Sean Hoffman said. “I give (Lowe) credit. He’s going to be a good running back in the conference. He runs hard and you know its easier to make those plays when he doesn’t have to break three or four tackles when we have more guys in there.”
With Lowe and Brees running with success, Purdue forced Minnesota to play the guessing game: run or pass. The Gophers entered the game leading the Big Ten in sacks with 30, but had just one on Saturday, and put almost no pressure on Brees. Minnesota also had just two tackles-for-loss, eight less than their average through the first seven games.
“Certainly you have to make some choices,” Tiller said. “They wanted to drop the guys and play a lot of zone and not give up big plays. With the exception of the throw to Sutherland they were very successful. When you do that it puts all the pressure on the front four or at times front three. If you’re only going to rush three or four, then the edge swings to us.”
Led by running back Thomas Hamner and quarterback Billy Cockerham, the Gophers offense wouldn’t go away in the fourth quarter, coming back from 26-14 and 33-21 deficits.
But every time the Minnesota offense got back in it, the defense couldn’t stop Purdue, and couldn’t stop the clock from running out.
“Maybe we surprised them, maybe not, but they’re a team that stops the run,” Lowe said. “I don’t think they were surprised, our offensive line did a great job and we got things done.”

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