Big Plays Lead to Comeback Win over Purdue in Minnesota Homecoming
October 10, 2009

“Big plays are the name of the game,” said Minnesota coach Tim Brewster after big plays helped the Gophers overcome an early 10-point deficit with a big second half propelling them to a Homecoming victory over the Purdue Boilermakers 35-20 at TCF Bank Stadium.

A snow-crusted field, the result of an overnight dusting of snow in the region, melted under sunny skies, although frigid conditions prevailed with a game-temperature of 32 degrees, different from the climate-controlled weather of the Metrodome, where the Gophers played the previous 28 seasons.

“I thought it was great,” said Minnesota coach Tim Brewster, “playing football in the elements. I liked seeing the snow outside.”

After going three-and-out on the first series of the game, the Gophers punted and allowed Purdue to convert three first downs before finally holding them to a 43-yard field goal by Carson Wiggs, backed by a 14-mile-per-hour wind from the west.

Minnesota was again stymied on its next possession, and the Boilermakers got the ball back on their 46 yard line. The Purdue line opened holes for sophomore tailback Ralph Bolden, who carried twice to start the drive, and protection for quarterback Joey Elliott, who connected with Aaron Valentin for gains of 16 and 21 to set up a first-and-goal at the 3. After two incomplete passes, Elliott found Valentin in the front corner of the end zone for a touchdown. Wiggs’s point-after make the score 10-0 with four-and-a-half minutes left in the first quarter.

Despite the double-digit lead, first-year Purdue head coach Danny Hope wasn’t overly hopeful. “The way things have gone all year long, I didn’t feel comfortable. A couple scores doesn’t put me in any type of comfort zone, at all.”

After the ensuing kickoff, the Purdue defense held again, forcing a third punt by Minnesota’s Blake Haudan, but this time its offense didn’t respond and had to punt the ball back. This time the Gophers mounted a drive, starting on their 16, on runs by Kevin Whaley, Jon Hoese, and DeLeon Eskridge to drive into Boilermakers territory. Decker then got a step on safety Dwight McLean and Adam Weber, with plenty of time, hit him with a 47-yard pass to the Purdue 1. After being stopped on his first attempt, Eskridge plowed through the line for a touchdown that cut the lead to 10-7.

The Boilermakers came back with a first down but then gave up another big play. Minnesota linebacker Lee Campbell corralled a short pass by Elliott and ran it back 32 yards to the 2 yard line. It again took two carries for Eskridge, but he slipped into the end zone on the second try, and Minnesota had a 14-10 lead.

Purdue came back with a 40-yard field goal by Wiggs but still trailed 14-13 at the half.

“I’m proud of the way we responded,” said Brewster. “We knew at halftime that we were in a dogfight. We challenged our team to define themselves in the second half.”

Minnesota kicked off to start the second half and held the Boilermakers, who then had a shanked punt, covering only seven yards, by Chris Summers go out of bounds at the Purdue 30. It took the Gophers only two plays to extend their lead. Whaley ran around the right side for 28 yards on the first; Weber then rolled right, and, finding no one open, cut back and found a hole into the end zone.

The big plays continued to Minnesota as, on the following kickoff, Keanon Cooper knocked the ball loose from Purdue’s Keith Carlos. The Gophers’ Bryan Klitzke recovered on the Purdue 31. An 11-yard pass to Nick Tow-Arnett and a burst through the line by Whaley put the ball on the 1. The Gophers survived a dropped snap by Weber as left-guard Chris Bunders fell on the ball. Whaley then ran the ball in for a 28-13 lead.

Purdue drove into Gophers territory but was stopped short of a first down on the 21, setting up a 38-yard field-goal attempt by Wiggs. However, Campbell blocked the kick, and the ball bounced across midfield. Traye Simmons fielded it on the Purdue 47 and ran untouched to paydirt, pushing the Gophers’ lead to 35-13.

The Boilermakers scored early in the fourth quarter as Keith Smith found himself wide-open as Elliott scrambled out of trouble and took the quarterback’s pass around the Minnesota 40, then jogged into the end zone for a 61-yard touchdown play.

Purdue could get no closer, although it mounted a drive in the fourth quarter. On a fourth-and-15 from the Minnesota 43, Smith took a pass and ran it inside the 30 before being brought down by Simmons and Cooper. It appeared the Boilermakers were stopped short, but a generous spot by the official meant a first down after the chains were brought out. However, the play went to a video review, which showed that the ball had been spotted incorrectly, resulting in no first down and the ball being turned over to Minnesota with four minutes to play.

Simmons later intercepted an Elliott pass that overshot Valentin, and the Gophers ran out the clock.

The turnovers made the difference for the Gophers, who were outgained in total yardage 402 to 281. Only 74 of the Minnesota yards came in the air. Whaley led the Minnesota rushers with 79 yards on eight carries. “We knew we wanted to run the football, wanted to make it a physical game,” said Brewster.

Gopher Holes: The Gophers dedicated the game to senior center Jeff Tow-Arnett, who broke his leg in the previous week’s loss to Wisconsin and may not play again.

Minnesota upped its record to 2-1 in the Big Ten and 4-2 overall. Purdue dropped to 0-2 in conference play, 1-5 overall.

The last time the Gophers had more rushing than passing yards was in their 2008 17-6 victory at Purdue.

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