Five takeaways as #21 Minnesota Football falters to Purdue, 20-10 – 247Sports

  • October 2, 2022

Minnesota Gopher Football (4-1, 1-1) will be looking back at this game and kicking themselves, as too many self-inflicted wounds lead to a homecoming loss to Purdue. The Gophers’ running game comes to a grinding half with no Mohamed Ibrahim. The Minnesota Moving Company allows too much pressure around their quarterback and gives the running backs nowhere to run the ball, and Joe Rossi’s defense deserves better. Here are my five takeaways as No. 21 Minnesota drops a Big Ten game at home to Purdue, 20-10.
There are many plays in a game that are impactful, but without question, there were three today that stand large over everything else. 
1) PJ Fleck deciding to go for it on fourth down at his own 29 in the first quarter
I didn’t understand this one then, and I still don’t now. The Gophers go to the Wildcat for the first time ALL SEASON on this play, and Cole Kramer has guys in his face immediately after the snap. Purdue gets the stop deep in Minnesota territory, but this decision from the head coach bugs me for a few different reasons. 
– Minnesota had five rushing yards on five running back carries before this play. It’s not like they were gashing the Boilermakers’ run defense coming into this play. 
– I’m assuming Fleck decided to break out the Wildcat here because they didn’t have Mo Ibrahim (which I’ll get to later). But it’s an odd time for the FIRST play of this formation in 2022 meaningful time.
– So, with your offensive line struggling to move mass up front, why is this play call, and why in the first quarter? The Gopher defense had just gotten off the field against Purdue, and while they recovered after the Boilermaker scripted start. Putting them deep in their own end isn’t a recipe for success. 
I’d have punted it away, considering it was the first quarter, but if it works, Fleck looks like a genius. Because it doesn’t, he looks like a fool. Purdue gets a field goal with the excellent field position, and giving them points was unnecessary. 
2) Matthew Trickett’s missed chip shot field 
I hate putting it all on the kicker because the play-calling after Daniel Jackson gets 66 yards to put Minnesota at the Purdue 10-yard-line left a lot to be desired. Potts gets three yards up the middle on first down and then is tripped up on outside zone on second down for a three-yard loss. I’ll again ask why running the ball to the right side of the offensive line, which struggled ALL day was the play, but I digress. Minnesota tries a fade to Daniel Jackson on third down, and it’s incomplete. 
But Trickett not converting on a 28-yard field goal can’t happen. It’d have been a 10-3 game, which makes it a one-possession game. He pulls it left, and it’s an empty red zone possession. 
3) Michael Brown-Stephens end zone drop turns into an interception
I don’t know what else you call it, but inexcusable. The Gophers are driving right before halftime, and a play after Tanner Morgan finds Brevyn Spann-Ford for 28 yards to put Minnesota in the red zone. Kirk Ciarrocca dials up a slant to Michael Brown-Stephens in the slot. Morgan can’t throw a better-located ball as it hits Brown-Stephens between the 2 and 2, but it bounces off his chest, up into the air where Purdue is waiting for an interception. 
And the sound you heard after that was the air being deflated from a striped-out stadium. If MBS catches that, it’s a tie game with under two minutes left in the half. If the ball just isn’t intercepted and falls incomplete, the Gophers live to see another day on 2nd-and-10 at the PU 11. But another red zone drive with no points is killer. 
I’d have to imagine that if you looked at what plays in this game cost Minnesota the most in win probability, this Brown-Stephens dropped touchdown turned interception would loom the largest. 

Say you live in the hypothetical world where Fleck decides to punt it, Trickett hits a 28-yard field goal, and MBS catches one squarely at his chest. That’s 10 points on the board for Minnesota, and three points off for Purdue, and you’d be looking at a 13-7 Gopher lead at halftime. 
That’s not the world we live in, but those three plays cratered the Gophers’ chances. 
I knew that Purdue’s run defense had been pretty good coming into the game. In their two power-five games before Minnesota, aka against Penn State and Syracuse, opposing tailbacks had only managed 3.0 yards per carry. That’s really good. But this Gopher offensive line has some soul searching to do after today. No matter who the tailback is, this is an offense that’s predicated on the run. And the Gophers running backs running for just 45 yards on 20 carries isn’t going to win you a lot of football games.
I understand that Mohamed Ibrahim is remarkably talented, and it’s why he’s averaged over 5.5 yards per carry on over 600 collegiate carries. But even if he plays today, I’m not sure the rushing totals look much better for Minnesota, as the tailbacks had guys in their faces far too often today.
The unpopular thing that I’m about to write, which is true, is that Tanner Morgan didn’t play well for the first time this season, but he’s also not among the biggest reasons that Minnesota didn’t win today. So miss me with the bench Tanner Morgan takes because let’s look at the three interceptions. The first one sees Tanner Morgan boot action to his left, and try and throw it, and it’s deflected up into the air for an interception. It’s either take the sack, or try and throw it away, which he did. The second interception hit Michael Brown Stephens between the numbers, and the last one is on Tanner, as I’m not sure where that was going.
But the reality is Minnesota had to alter their game plan today because the offensive line couldn’t consistently protect Morgan, and they couldn’t open a hole for their running backs. It’s why you saw the Gophers go to the screen game in the second half, trying to alleviate some pressure on the senior quarterback and the run game.
And the frustrating part about their performance today is where did it come from? Ibrahim is great, but Minnesota just opened holes on the road at Michigan State. And then today, they came out flat and never found their stride against Purdue. But Brian Callahan’s unit has to look in the mirror on this bye week, because the next time they take the field, it will be against a Illini front-seven that just destroyed Wisconsin in Camp Randall.
Suppose I were to have told you that Purdue quarterback Aidan O’Connell ended his game against Minnesota with under 200 passing yards and two more interceptions than touchdowns. In that case, we’d have probably agreed that Minnesota won the football game. But alas, here we are.
The first drive of the game for Purdue resulted in a touchdown due mainly to sloppy tackling from Minnesota. I’m sure if you were to ask defensive coordinator Joe Rossi about that possession, he’d tell you the same thing I will. You can’t miss that many tackles on a drive against a Big Ten team and not expect them to score points. And then it’s a tough ask when the head coach gambles and doesn’t get a fourth-down conversion at your own-29. The defense bows up and allows three points.
But here’s where I’m at. On the following seven drives for Purdue, the Gopher defense allows zero points and forces three turnovers. The issue is the Gopher offense turned those three turnovers into zero points. You’re not going to win many football games when three turnovers aren’t turned into any points.
I thought Minnesota’s secondary played exceptionally today. Charlie Jones, the leading receiver in the Big Ten no matter what the category is, was held to just six catches and 55 yards. Both are season-lows, and Terell Smith and Justin Walley deserve a lot of credit for that. Smith led the team in tackles with seven and had two pass breakups to go with it. Both of the Gopher safeties were also exceptional, as they accounted for all three turnovers. Jordan Howden and Tyler Nubin both read the eyes of the quarterback and jump routes for interceptions, and then Tyler Nubin lays the boom on a running back to force a fumble.
The long run at the end of the game was a back-breaker, where #45 Devin Mockobee looks like Mike Alstott reincarnated for the Boilermakers. He breaks multiple tackles at the line, reverses course, and then sprints down the sidelines for a 68-yard gain. That can’t happen, but that game for Minnesota shouldn’t have been close to begin with if the offense can turn any of those turnovers into points.
You’d want some more pass rush at times, sure. But Rossi’s defense isn’t among the top reasons for the defeat today.
I feel like it deserves its own section. If Twitter was any indication, we saw folks somehow blame the media for the lack of information on Gopher running back Mohamed Ibrahim. Everyone saw him tweak an ankle against Michigan State, but then return to the game and finish it before not playing today. 
Well, as a member of the Gopher Football media, here’s what I knew before kickoff today. 
1) PJ Fleck gave no injury update on Monday on Ibrahim
2) The media isn’t allowed at practice all week, so we have no idea who is practicing and who isn’t
3) Minnesota doesn’t release a depth chart or an injury report and hasn’t for years
4) I can tell you, via sources, that Ibrahim participated in practices this week, and Fleck confirmed as much after the game
5) Ibrahim was dressed, warmed up, was in the starters taking reps in warm-ups
And then he obviously sat ahead of Minnesota’s bye week. I get the decision, as Fleck and staff want to ensure the ankle is 100% with seven Big Ten games coming after the bye week. In his post-game press conference, Fleck mentioned that Ibrahim was a game-time decision, and they wanted to give that ankle another week of rest before taking on Illinois in two weeks. 
It played a part in Minnesota’s losing the game today, but I don’t get the anger about the lack of information from the media about it. You’ve seen what I knew, so when Ibrahim doesn’t run out on that opening drive, it surprised all of us, as it did you. 

In case you haven’t looked at the scoreboard today, Iowa took it on the chin against Michigan in Kinnick Stadium, and Wisconsin lost by 24 (!!) to Illinois in Camp Randall. I’m not sure when the last time the Badgers started 0-2 in conference play and were below .500 five games into a season, but welcome to the wild Big Ten West in 2022.
With those two results in Iowa City and Madison today, does dropping a very winnable game like this one at home hurt? Absolutely. But I’m not sold that six conference wins won’t win you the West, and it appears that Illinois and Purdue will still be viable in this five-team race. Today is a game that if Minnesota doesn’t end up in Indianapolis, you will be kicking yourself if you’re PJ Fleck.
But if they’re going to prove that this Purdue game is an aberration on what was a dominant September, they better win in Champaign in two weeks, which looks incredibly more challenging than many folks thought coming into the season. You’ve got an extra week to prepare for Bielema, as they host Iowa under the lights next week. You can’t play as sloppy as Minnesota did today and come out of it with a Big Ten win.
We’ll find out how this 2022 Gopher Football team now responds to the first adversity they’ve faced all season.
It’s a chance to get Mohamed Ibrahim healthy, because off of the bye, is arguably the hottest team now in the Big Ten West in Bret Bielema’s Fighting Illini team that just gave it to Wisconsin in Camp Randall.
The Gophers will have to travel to Champaign, so while Illinois has to play Iowa next week, the Gophers coaching staff will hit the road recruiting and get some extra preparation for a very challenging Illini team. 
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