Minnesota vs. Purdue: Week 5 Preview

Sept. 29, 2021The Golden Gophers will look to forget last week’s blunder as they travel to West Lafayette, Ind. for a contest with the Purdue Boilermakers.

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Broadcast Info:

  • Date: Sat., Oct. 2
  • TV channel: Big Ten Network (BTN)
  • Time of kickoff: 11:00 a.m. (CST)
  • Broadcast team: Lisa Byington (play-by-play) & Anthony Heron (color)
  • Betting line: Minnesota (+2.5) @ Purdue; over/under (47.5)

Opponent Information (Purdue):

  • 2020 record: 2-4
  • 2021 record: 3-1
    • v. Oregon State: 30-21 W
    • @ UConn: 49-0 W
    • @ Notre Dame: 13-27 L
    • v. Illinois: 13-9 W
  • Head Coach: Jeff Brohm (5th season)
  • Returning starters: 17
  • Players to watch: George Karlaftis (DE), David Bell (WR), Jack Plummer/Aidan O’Connell (QBs), Jaylan Alexander (LB)

Minnesota and Purdue are entering their week five matchup in two very different places. The Gophers are coming off one of their worst losses in program history, while Purdue looks like one of the more underrated teams in the Big Ten if not the country. Since Boilermakers head coach Jeff Brohm took over five seasons ago, he has taken his program out of the dumpster of the conference. With Rondale Moore off to the NFL, some expected this offense to take a step back, but talented junior David Bell has connected with QB duo Jack Plummer and Aidan O’Connell to pick where they left off as one of the best pass attacks in the conference. The Gophers’ secondary will have their work cut out for them Saturday, as they look to get their 2021 season back on track.

Purdue season storylines:

  • Two-quarterback system: J. Plummer & A. O’Connell:

The two-quarterback system is something often attempted at the college football level, but rarely perfected. Juniors Jack Plummer and Aidan O’Connell both entered 2021 with plenty of experience under their belt. Plummer with 2,600+ passing yards and 20 TDs, while O’Connell totaled 2,000+ and 15 TDs before this season. After deploying only Plummer in week one opted to use both signal-callers throughout the game. It has worked well so far as Purdue ranks No. 16 in college football averaging 314 passing yards per game this season.

Plummer is 82/118 (69.5%) passing for 840 yards, seven touchdowns and no interceptions, while O’Connell is 32/48 (66.6%) for 372 yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions. It hasn’t been a true two QB system, as Plummer has started every game, and Jeff Brohm has almost opted more to go with the hot hand approach rather than giving each player a certain amount of drives. After O’Connell led Purdue on a game-winning drive last week, there is no telling what their plan will be against the Gophers, but I would imagine that we will see both guys behind center.

  • Replacing Rondale Moore & NFL talent:

Many fans of the Big Ten were well aware of the electrifying Rondale Moore, as he is now making plays for the Arizona Cardinals, but Purdue quietly had two other NFL players depart from West Lafayette last season. 2020 leading-tackler LB Derrick Barnes just made his first career start with the Detroit Lions and DT Lorenzo Neal Jr. signed a training camp deal with the Denver Broncos. Moore is obviously a massive loss, but the Boilermakers quietly had a lot of talent to replace after heading into 2021.

Junior WR David Bell has been the No. 1 man, with Moore now in the NFL. Bell has been making plays his whole Purdue career, but now as the top option, he has 21 catches for 329 yards and three TDs this season. Purdue’s passing attack is obviously missing that explosive home-run threat in Moore, but it has almost picked right where it left off a season ago.

  • George Karlaftis-led defense:

The best player on Purdue is junior DE George Karlaftis. He broke onto the scene as a freshman in 2019 with 54 tackles, and 7.5 sacks, but struggled with COVID and injuries last season leading to a disappointing 2020. He has begun to find his 2019 form this season, with 12 tackles, 1.5 sacks, two forces fumbles and two passes defended already. The 6-foot-4-inch edge rusher has serious first-round NFL Draft hype and it is well deserved, as he might as well be the best defensive player the Gophers have faced this season.

Purdue’s defense is much improved this season allowing the 30th fewest yards per game at 301. Former Charlotte HC and Marshall DC Brad Lambert has turned around the Boilermakers’ defense in only his first season. Jeff Brohm-led teams have often had weak defenses, leading to a lot of shootouts, but that is not the case in 2021, Karlaftis and Lambert have turned this unit around.

Gophers’ path to victory:

The Gophers’ previous three games have all been won (or lost) within the trenches, this one will be one on the outside, much like the week one game with Ohio State. Purdue’s bread and butter is the passing attack, Jeff Brohm offenses have always loved to spread you out and sling it. We all obviously know how many big plays the Minnesota secondary let up in week one and really all throughout the season, to be honest; but that will have to chance this week if they would like to move to 3-2. David Bell is an All-Big Ten wide receiver talent, and the Gophers’ secondary will need to slow him down.

As for when the Gophers have the ball, I don’t mean to sound like a broken record, but they will need to have some play-calling creativity. Purdue’s defensive strength is certainly its pass defense, allowing the 30th fewest yards per game in the country (176.8), but we all saw last week what happens when you become truly one dimensional. Unfortunately, I would imagine that Tanner Morgan‘s confidence might be at the lowest of his career, the easiest way to get him out of that would be letting him see some completions. The passing attack doesn’t need to be fancy, just some quick completions and screen passes, I think could really help Tanner and this team find balance.

Fleck-led teams have shown to have a short memory and this week will need to be much of the same. It will be Purdue’s strength (pass attack) and Minnesota’s weakness (pass defense) on one side of the ball, and Purdue’s weakness (run defense) and Minnesota’s strength (rushing attack) on the other side. I think whoever makes bigger and more explosive plays will win this game. Whoever breaks out of what they want to do or their strength will leave week five with a victory.

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