Offense regains familiar form in win over Purdue

Rebounding from a one touchdown performance against Iowa, the Gophers won a shootout against the Boilermakers.

Gophers+quarterback+Tanner+Morgan+takes+a+dive+at+TCF+Bank+Stadium+on+Friday%2C+Nov.+13.+The+Gophers+fell+to+the+University+of+Iowa+Hawkeyes+35-7.

Emily Urfer

Gophers quarterback Tanner Morgan takes a dive at TCF Bank Stadium on Friday, Nov. 13. The Gophers fell to the University of Iowa Hawkeyes 35-7.

Paul Hodowanic, Sports Reporter

Minnesota Gophers head coach P.J. Fleck has used one word more than any to describe his team’s performance this season: inconsistent.

For the defense it made sense. The unit saw seven players depart from last season, including four who were drafted into the NFL. Injuries and COVID absences have tested that depth even further.

But the offense’s problems were more confounding. Quarterback Tanner Morgan, running back Mohamed Ibrahim and receivers Rashod Bateman and Chris Autman-Bell all returned with four experienced offensive lineman to anchor the unit.

Yet still, the offense had struggled to recreate the successes of last season.

It was never more evident than last week, when the group managed just one touchdown in the Gophers 35-7 loss to Iowa.

But on Friday, the Gophers conjured up an offensive performance that felt much like the height of their historic 2019 season. The result followed suit, with the Gophers winning 34-31 over Purdue.

“This week we looked at it and had a lot of opportunities to grow from last week from the film,” Morgan said. “It’s all about doing it with each other. I had a lot of fun playing football with our offense tonight. At the end of the day that’s really all it’s about.”

Ibrahim continued his torrid start to the season, running for 102 yards and three touchdowns, including the eventual game-winner. Ibrahim has 13 rushing touchdowns this season, currently third-most in the country.

Ibrahim’s performance wasn’t the key, however. It was Morgan’s.

After having one of his worst statistical performances of his career last week, Morgan avoided the turnovers that plagued him, spreading the ball out to seven different receivers and regaining the confidence that was omnipresent last year.

While his play didn’t result in any touchdowns, Morgan threw for 264 yards and no interceptions and commanded the offense through several difficult situations.

“He was tough tonight. He had an edge to him. He played gritty,” Fleck said. “He was accurate and had a complete understanding of the offense.”

Facing a 4th-and-8 on the Purdue 34 yard-line leading 21-17 early in the third quarter, Fleck opted to keep Morgan and the offense on the field. Morgan solidified the decision, throwing a jump ball up to Autman-Bell who came down with it on the one-yard line.

“When I saw Chris out there one-on-one, man, that was a great feeling because I knew he was going to come down with the ball,” Morgan said.

One play later, Ibrahim punched it in to extend Minnesota’s lead.

Autman-Bell’s progression has been much needed for a Gophers offense that lost its most productive receiver in program history, Tyler Johnson. Autman-Bell caught five passes for 129 yards, both career highs. All of Autman-Bell’s receptions were caught for first downs.

“He’s a special player, special dude,” Morgan said. “He did a phenomenal job this week and has done a great job this year for us.”

Now, to strip the offense of its self-proclaimed “inconsistent” tag, Morgan will need to string together performances like Friday. The Gophers play Wisconsin and Northwestern in the next two weeks, both of whom are ranked. Minnesota is confident they have the right man leading them towards it.

“I see toughness and edge from Tanner every day,” Autman-Bell said. “He’s a leader on this football team. One of the best leaders in the country.”