Chaotic First Half Dooms Gophers; Purdue Downs Minnesota, 45-31
Saturday, September 22, 2007

After suffering the one of the biggest upsets in University of Minnesota football history, a shameful 42-39 loss to lowly Florida Atlantic on September 15, members of the athletic department were cheered somewhat by the news that Athlon Sports was picking the Gopher basketball team to finish in seventh place in the Big 10 in the 2007-2008 season. Seventh place would be an improvement for a team that won only three conference games in the previous season. It must be noted that Athlon Sports has a sound record when it comes to Big 10 accuracy. In fact, Athlon’s 2007 football forecast is shaping up to be right on the money. You see, Athlon believes that the Gopher gridders are destined to finish 11th in the Big 10. To do so, Minnesota would probably have to go winless in the conference. After last Saturday night’s game at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, this appears to be a comprehensible possibility.

The Gophers ran onto the field full of vinegar and then laid an egg on the Field Turf surface of the Metrodome, falling behind 24-3 by halftime. Symbolic of the egg-laying was a football dropped by Minnesota senior corner back Jamal “Hollywood” Harris as he raced alone toward the end zone near the end of the first half. Harris had picked up the bouncing ball after a Chris Summers field-goal attempt was blocked by Mike Sherels. Harris ran like the wind toward the end zone, but the heaviness of the ball overcame him, and he surrendered it to the turf. “He just dropped the ball,” an amazed Gopher coach Tim Brewster said after the game. “I was flabbergasted.”

Harris’s madcap run culminated a first half that saw Purdue’s Desmond Tardy take the opening kickoff and ramble unimpeded 95 yards for a Boilermaker touchdown. Purdue was ahead by 7-0 with 14 minutes and 46 seconds left in the first quarter. A corpulent Minneapolis newspaperman in the press box was observed to be falling out of his chair with laughter.

The comedy continued in the second quarter when the Gophers’ Amir Pinnix fumbled on a first-and-10 at the Purdue 14 yard line to halt a potential touchdown drive for Minnesota. Pinnix, who in previous games had proven himself to be the team’s most effective rusher, was banished for the remainder of the game by Coach Brewster. “We’re only going to play guys who value the football,” Brewster proclaimed in a stern voice.

Apparently quarterback Adam Weber is immune from punishment. Weber fumbled and lost the ball on the Minnesota 10 late in the first quarter. On the first play of the second quarter, he had a screen pass tipped by Purdue’s Cliff Avril, who then corralled the ball, escaped an attempt at a tackle by Weber, and ran the interception back 43 yards for a touchdown. Weber has committed six turnovers this season, yet remains the only Gopher to take snaps from the quarterback position.

As the Gophers marched off the field in zombie-like fashion at halftime, press box observers speculated about what Purdue coach Joe Tiller would decide the final score would be. Apparently, Tiller was influenced by the score of the Wisconsin-Citadel game the week before in Madison and settled for 45-31. (In the second half, Tiller was aided by a muddled scoreboard operator who decided to spontaneously give the Boilermakers not only six points for a phantom touchdown, but a phantom two-point conversion to boot. Confusion reigned before the eight points were taken off the board.)

Minnesota had faced Purdue eight times in Big 10 openers since 1996 and won only once (a 42-35 overtime thriller in 2005). Boilermaker dominance in recent years has allowed Purdue to creep within one win of the Gophers in all-time meetings between the teams (Minnesota leads 31-30 with three ties in the series). If the current trend continues, the Gophers will soon trail the Boilers, a far cry from the days when Minnesota was pounding Purdue by scores of 33-0, 34-7, and 29-7.

During the course of last Saturday’s game, Gopher assistants on the sidelines were observed holding up signs reading “Posse.” When asked about the significance of the posse sign, Brewster responded that this was a defensive alignment employed by the coaching staff, and it also dictated substitutions. Whatever, the Gopher posse on defense resembles the inept group that allowed Jesse and Frank James to escape Minnesota after the Great Northfield Raid. The Gophers allowed Purdue quarterback Curtis Painter to easily complete 25 passes for 235 yards and three touchdowns.

“We’re not making plays,” Brewster said after the game. “The breaks are going against us. Nevertheless, he observed that the “kids have a great work ethic.”

That work ethic was needed as the Gophers attempted to claw back after the halftime break. On the first series, reserve running back Duane Bennett broke loose for a 44-yard dash to the Purdue 4 yard-line, then took the ball in for a touchdown on the next play. Following the point after, Minnesota trailed by two touchdowns.

Unfazed, Painter led the Boilermakers on a methodical nine-play touchdown drive that started at the team’s own 20-yard line following a Joel Monroe kickoff into the end zone. Painter ended the drive with a four-yard touchdown toss to Dorien Bryant. Purdue led by 31 to 10.

To the team’s credit, the Gophers responded with a nine-play drive of their own, ending with a Jay Thomas one-yard touchdown burst. But the defense was unable to stop Purdue on the next series, and the Boilermakers increased the lead to 38-17 as the end of the third quarter.

A Weber touchdown pass to Eric Decker (and Monroe PAT) made it 38 to 24, but once again the defense failed to hold. Painter found Bryant open in the end zone for Purdue’s 44th point (as the mad scoreboard operator had prophesized). The extra point made it 45 for the Boilers, and that was all Purdue needed for the victory.

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