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Gophers survive against Purdue after questionable penalty

Minnesota almost blew an 11-point lead but were saved by an offensive pass interference penalty followed by an interception.
Image by Emily Urfer
Gophers running back Mohamed Ibrahim carries the ball at TCF Bank Stadium on Friday, Nov. 13. The Gophers fell to the University of Iowa Hawkeyes 35-7.

In a back-and-forth game Friday night, Minnesota survived 34-31 against Purdue thanks to a questionable penalty toward the end of regulation.

The Gophers almost surrendered an 11-point lead they had going into halftime. Purdue’s quarterback Jack Plummer threw a touchdown pass to tight end Payne Durham that would have given the Boilermakers a three-point lead.

Instead, offensive pass interference was called on Durham and nullified the score. The next play linebacker Josh Aune was the hero for Minnesota and came up with a game sealing interception. The turnover was the first time in the second half the Gophers’ defense stopped the Boilermakers’ offense.

“When I saw the replay, it could have probably went either way but there’s a lot of contact,” head coach P.J. Fleck said. “It’s a bang-bang play and those things get called. It happened to swing our play and again I didn’t get a great look at it.”

Missed opportunities in the kicking game for Purdue helped the Gophers come out victorious. Late in the first half, linebacker Mariano Sori-Marin blocked a field goal attempt after a touchdown by Rondale Moore was overturned and ruled incomplete. The Boilermakers later missed another field goal in the second half.

In what has become automatic, Mohamed Ibrahim logged another impressive performance of more than 100 rushing yards and multiple rushing scores. Ibrahim added three touchdowns to his season total.

Moore, Purdue’s standout receiver, returned for his first game of the 2020 season and made his mark early with the Boilermakers’ first score. The Gophers struggled to contain him as Moore hauled in 15 receptions for 116 yards, but Minnesota had a stellar performance from its own in Chris Autman-Bell. The redshirt junior led all Gophers receivers with five catches for 129 yards.

Through the first four games, Minnesota was easily the worst rush defense in the Big Ten. The Gophers initially looked to be improving, holding Purdue to only 31 yards on 11 attempts in the first half. But the unit came back down to reality in the second half as the Boilermakers finished with 125 yards on the ground.

The Gophers were susceptible to big plays throughout the game, including a 47-yard touchdown reception by David Bell bringing the Boilermakers right back into the game coming out of halftime. Minnesota and Purdue went on to exchange touchdowns on the next four possessions.

Both teams were without key players coming into the matchup due to either injury or COVID-19. Defensive linemen Keonte Schad, Rashad Cheney Jr. and Boye Mafe along with defensive back Benjamin St. Juste were sidelined for the Gophers. As for Purdue, backup Plummer was pushed into the starting role, as starter Aidan O’Connell did not travel to Minneapolis with the team. Plummer finished with 367 yards and three passing touchdowns.

Minnesota will travel to Madison next weekend in a border battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe against Wisconsin. After the win, Fleck talked about how this game meant a lot to the program given the condensed season along with the challenges society is facing with COVID-19 among other issues. The Gophers wore the phrase ‘End Racism’ on the back of their jerseys.

“This win isn’t going to go down as one of the greatest wins in Gopher history, but I told [the team] I’ll never forget this day,” Fleck said. “I’ll never forget this game because of what it meant, what it represented, how they won it, with all the adversity. That’s ‘Row the Boat.’ That’s the culture.”

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