Minnesota defense shows in 41-10 win against Purdue
By Brian Hall
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Known for his catchphrases, Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck had one for his defense that he repeated often in the week after firing defensive coordinator Robb Smith: sound, simple fast.
The Gophers’ maligned defense looked each part as it held Purdue to season-lows in yards and points for a 41-10 win against the Boilermakers in the cold and snow on Saturday.
Quarterback Seth Green had a touchdown rushing and passing, and redshirt freshman Mohamed Ibrahim ran for 156 yards for Minnesota, which played its first game under interim defensive coordinator Joe Rossi.
The Gophers entered the game allowing 43.2 points and 507.7 yards per game, but linebacker Blake Cashman forced a fumble and returned it 40 yards for a touchdown as Minnesota (5-5, 2-5 Big Ten) held Purdue to 233 total yards and 0 of 12 on third down.
“Sound, simple, fast,” Fleck said of the defensive philosophy. “We didn’t change our defense. The defense is the defense, and the defense works. We got back to us.”
Senior quarterback David Blough was 20 of 31 for 142 yards passing for the Boilermakers (5-5, 4-3), who entered the game second in the Big Ten scoring with 35.8 points per game.
“Really, just some selfish things that are going on that can’t happen,” Purdue coach Jeff Brohm said. “Too many people that have patted themselves on the back too much, and listened to others instead of working their tail off and finding ways to improve, and understanding that all the little things matter, and realizing that the team comes first.”
Fleck fired Smith a day after giving up 646 yards in a loss to Illinois last week. Rossi was the team’s defensive line coach this season.
The announced 21-degree weather was the third-coldest start for a game in the 10-year history of TCF Bank Stadium. A light snow fell during much of second half in which Minnesota took control.
Cashman’s fumble return for a touchdown on the opening drive started the half. The Gophers capped their first three offensive possessions of the second half with a touchdown.
“Simplified the game plan, which allows guys to play loose, play fast, give them that confidence out there,” Cashman said of Rossi’s impact. “That’s really important because I think we lost some of that against Illinois when they came out and hit us in the mouth early.”
The longest drive for Purdue, which entered with 485.2 yards per game in Big Ten play, was 30 yards until midway through the fourth quarter when Blough connected with Moore for a 9-yard touchdown pass to cap a 75-yard drive.
“They run the same coverages, a few minor changes, but we couldn’t get the run game going,” Blough said. “We weren’t on all cylinders on the pass game, and it made it easier for them to kind of tee off on us.”
ONE STEP FORWARD, TWO STEPS BACK
After beating then-No. 2 Ohio State 49-20 on Oct. 20, Purdue went on the road and lost to Michigan State 23-13, with their previous worst offensive performance in Big Ten play. The Boilermakers were coming off a 38-36 win against then-No. 19 Iowa last week.
“I’ll take full responsibility for it,” Brohm said. “We didn’t have our guys ready to play. I think we somehow just thought we could just come out there, and the ball would bounce our way, and good things would happen.”
Minnesota: The defensive improvement sure changes the perception. The Gophers had allowed at least 30 points in every Big Ten game this season prior to Saturday. Beating Purdue gets Minnesota one game closer to bowl-eligible. The Gophers need a win at home against Northwestern or on the road at Wisconsin, no easy task.