Strong Brees blows over Minnesota

Michael Dougherty

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Welcome to “Learning the Spread Offense 101,” taught by Professor Drew Brees.
Brees, the Purdue quarterback and general of coach Joe Tiller’s innovative offense known as the Spread, picked apart the Minnesota defense at will on Saturday in the 56-21 rout.
The sophomore from Austin, Tex., threw for a team record 522 yards and six touchdowns, completing 31 of 36 passes in only three quarters of play.
Gophers coach Glen Mason said Brees was a great quarterback, but also pointed out that his defensive secondary played poorly and contributed to the inflated numbers.
“I’ll take total responsibility for this loss,” Mason said. “I only say that because it’s my job to get the players ready to play. We didn’t play well defensively, we didn’t play well offensively and we were terrible in the kicking game, so that’s why I say that obviously I didn’t do a very good job.”
Gophers strong safety Tyrone Carter, who is the emotional leader of the secondary, said he shared the blame with Mason. Carter also commended Brees for playing a great game, giving him credit for capitalizing on countless coverage mistakes.
“We had a good game plan coming into the game, but we just had some bad mental mistakes,” Carter said. “It wasn’t the coaches’ fault, it was the players. We just didn’t execute the plays that they called.”
Despite the shared assumption of the blame, there was plenty more to go around.
After the Gophers were forced to punt on the opening possession, Ryan Rindels pinned Purdue at their own seven-yard line with a 40-yard punt.
Then the ball was handed to Professor Brees and the doors to the debacle were opened. Purdue proceeded to ram the spread offense down the throats of the Minnesota defense time after time, teaching the Gophers more than they cared to know.
Brees hit wide receiver Gabe Cox with a 39-yard pass on the first play, followed by a 32-yard shot to Isaac Jones. The Boilermakers drove 93 yards for a touchdown before the game was two minutes old.
With the score 35-7 at the half, the only thing left to watch was the list of records that could have fallen had Brees continued to decimate the poor Gopher defense.
“I don’t want to say it was over early, but they had a pretty big gosh-darn lead,” Mason said. “I mean if you have that kind of lead in the Indy 500 halfway through, you’re going to win the darn thing unless you blow an engine.”
But the Boilermakers came out of the pits after halftime with their tanks full, and continued to leave skid marks on the Gophers secondary.
After that, Purdue scored three more touchdowns in the third quarter, until Tiller mercifully pulled Brees from the game — ending any possibility of breaking David Klingler’s single game mark of 716 yards, a mark that seemed within Brees’ reach.
When backup David Edgerton entered the game at the beginning of the fourth quarter, the fans began to file out. That gave the Gophers damaged secondary the chance to walk on the field without shaking uncontrollably at the thought of Brees throwing their way.
“I think anytime you get a great performance from the guy behind center you will win,” Tiller said. “We threw a bit more than we wanted to, but probably not as much as Drew wanted to.”
Even if the Gophers defense had been able to limit Purdue, the Minnesota offense seemed unable to sustain any sort of continuity.
But both Mason and linebacker Parc Williams admitted that it’s hard to keep playing with the proper intensity when the opponent is spotted so many points so early.
“I didn’t believe it was happening, I just couldn’t believe it,” Williams said. “They just jumped on us so quick and before you knew it it was 35-7 at halftime.
“We knew what was coming. We prepared for them for two weeks. But we would just have one person make a dumb mistake each time and they would catch us on it. They wound up beating on us big-time and we ended up paying for it.”
Despite two weeks of preparation, Minnesota looked clueless from the beginning.
In last week’s game against Notre Dame, a game the Irish won 31-30 on a field goal in the final minute, it was clear that the spread offense would present some matchup problems for Minnesota. But the game plan Mason and his staff chose to offset those unfavorable matchups was perplexing.
“We knew they were going to play a lot of man-to-man and blitz a lot,” receiver Chris Daniels (six catches for 74 yards and two touchdowns) said. “But when they blitz, it leaves somebody one-on-one against the receivers.”
Tiller said he figured if Minnesota defended them like he had seen on film, his offense would succeed.
Brees, meanwhile, said he was surprised the Gophers chose man coverage to try to stop them.
“That kind of plays right into our hands because with our passing attack, we like to attack man coverage,” he said. “But we have routes against any coverage.”