Gophers hold off short-handed Purdue for 38-31 victory

Minnesota wins high-scoring affair in Big Ten opener.

Running back Bryce Williams carries the ball at Ross-Ade Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019. The Gophers earned a 38-31 victory over Purdue. 

Jasmin Kemp

Running back Bryce Williams carries the ball at Ross-Ade Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019. The Gophers earned a 38-31 victory over Purdue. 

Nick Jungheim

Coming off a bye week, the Gophers sought to prove that a trio of dramatic non-conference victories were not just a fluke. Saturday in West Lafayette, Indiana, there was no need for heroics as Minnesota beat Purdue 38-31 to remain undefeated.

In the team’s Big Ten opener, the Gophers scored a touchdown on their first drive of the game to take a lead they would never relinquish. Leaning on their aerial attack, Minnesota out-dueled a Purdue team decimated by injuries in an offensive shootout.

“Really excited to get out of here with a win,” head coach P.J. Fleck told the media. “Winning on the road in the Big Ten is very difficult. Purdue is a very good football team, very explosive on offense.”

Right from the opening kick off, it was clear that Purdue’s defense was no threat to the Gophers’ offense. Minnesota opened the game with a nine-play, 75-yard drive, leading to a touchdown from redshirt senior Rodney Smith to open the scoring.

After the Boilermakers added a field goal, quarterback Tanner Morgan connected with redshirt sophomore Chris Autman-Bell on a slant that turned into a 70-yard catch-and-run, extending the lead to 14-3. 

Although Purdue cut that lead to 14-10 on the ensuing possession, they lost their two best offensive players, quarterback Elijah Sindelar and wide receiver Rondale Moore, to injuries on the same play. Without the key components to their passing game, Purdue was unable to keep up with Morgan, who had a career day throwing for 396 yards and completing 21 of 22 attempts.

The redshirt sophomore quarterback added three more touchdowns in the second and third quarters, one to senior Tyler Johnson and a pair to sophomore Rashod Bateman who scored on plays of 45 and 47 yards.

Minnesota’s lead grew to 38-17 before a furious Purdue rally once again created a tense ending for the Gophers. A 15-play, 99-yard drive culminated in a touchdown from freshman King Doerue. Then, the Boilermakers recovered an onside kick and Doerue quickly scored again to cut Minnesota’s lead to seven points with 3:59 remaining.

“First three games we had to come from behind to win,” Fleck told the media. “This game we had to keep the lead to win. You have to give them credit, a lot of crazy things happened but we found a way to respond.”

However, that was as close as things would get. The Gophers managed to run out the clock, never giving the ball back to Purdue. Despite needing to hold on in another one-score game, Minnesota managed to escape with a road victory to open the conference slate and secure their first 4-0 start to a season since 2013.

“We have to earn people’s respect,” Fleck told the media. “Nobody is going to ever give it to us. We’ve got to earn everything. When you haven’t won a championship in 52 years, that just shows how people think about it. We have got to find a way to earn respect.”

Minnesota will return to TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 5 for a homecoming matchup against Illinois.