Gophers aren't supposed to lay eggs. But the Minnesota Gophers sure did on Saturday, losing their second straight and virtually any hope of winning the Big Ten West for the first (and last) time. They were steamrolled in Purdue 49-30 a week after giving up a late touchdown in a loss to Illinois.
After beating Iowa on October 21, they were tied for first. Now, they trail the Hawkeyes by two with two games remaining and still needing another win to become bowl eligible.
It was just a disappointing day in West Lafeyette. Purdue literally could not be stopped all day, scoring at will on the Gopher defense. Pete Najarian, former Gopher and NFL linebacker, now co-host of the Sports Huddle on WCCO, said he was shocked by their performance.
"That was about as disappointing it could possibly be," said Najarian. "Obviously the Illinois game really hurt but I think the Purdue game, and I'm not saying they were looking ahead, but it was almost accepted like they're looking at it going we've got three games left, and we're looking at Purdue, we've got Ohio State and then again Wisconsin. Knowing that Ohio State would be rough, you have a good shot with Purdue and Wisconsin and that puts you in bowl contention. Hopefully they weren't looking that far ahead, because if they were this was absolutely a debacle."
The Gophers actually lead early, 10-7. But for the first time since 2004, Purdue opened a game with TDs on its first four possessions while the Boilermakers defense repeatedly forced the Gophers to kick field goals and the result was predictable.
"That was unacceptable and our defense has been our strong point," Najarian says. "That's the part we've really executed really well. Except for the latter part of the Illinois game. To give Purdue the opportunity to run the ball they way they did, our defense did now show up."
Purdue ran the ball for 350 yards and they average 150 proving that the Gopher defense didn't show at all. Purdue had over 600 yards of total offense. This was not exactly Drew Brees and company from the 90s either. Purdue came into this game ranked 108th nationally in scoring offense and 98th in total offense. They hadn't scored more than 14 points in a game since September. They made up for lost time against the Gophers though.
"It just shocked me that the defense didn't play up to what we've been watching," Najarian said. "The fact that they dominated us in every single quarter? They put up 49 points on us. Outside of the Michigan game they didn't give up that many yards, that many points. The defense did just not show up."
Now it really gets hard. The Gophers are now 5-5 overall and 3-4 in Big Ten play. Winning the West is not mathmatically impossible, but it's at least improbable.
There are two games remaining with the season-ender against struggling Wisconsin looming. But first it's a road game against THE Ohio State, at a place the Gophers have won twice in the series history. In fact, Ohio State is 21-1 against the Gophers since 1989. The Gopher victories in Columbus were in 2000 and you probably don't remember the game in 1949. Overall the Buckeyes hold a 47-7 series record but the recent history isn't just dominant for OSU, it's practically a foregone conclusion.
"Ohio State is definitely one of the dominant teams, they have been all year, they've been outstanding. We all know where they're ranked. You've got Ohio State and Michigan in the top four for just about everybody and they're undefeated. They have literally got it all. That's going to be a scary one. If our defense doesn't show up and they look anything like they did at Purdue, that is going to be a really, really ugly game in a hurry."
The Gophers are now (still?) one win short of that magical sixth win which gets you bowl-eligible. Even if you can scratch out one more victory, Najarian says it doesn't remove the disappointment from this team.
"It just doesn't feel good though," Najarian said. "If we go to a bowl what kind of bowl are we going to?"
Hint: Detroit isn't a long trip.
Minnesota: What once looked so promising for the Gophers now looks bleak. They must beat either No. 3 Ohio State (No. 1 CFP) or rival Wisconsin to make the postseason.
Purdue: Yes, the Boilermakers ended their losing streak, earned their second home win this season and beat the Gophers for the second straight year. It just came too late to earn a bowl bid.
Minnesota: Leading tackler Maverick Baranowski left with what appeared to be a right wrist injury and defensive back Tre’Von Jones left with a possible right shoulder or arm injury. Neither returned.