Nelson Leads Gophers Past Purdue 44-28
October 27, 2012

After an initial hiccup by the offense and defense, the Minnesota Gophers put on a surge in the first half, building a sizable lead on their way to a 44-28 win over Purdue.

Freshman quarterback Philip Nelson, making his first appearance at home after having started the previous week’s game, a loss at Wisconsin, lived up to the high expectations local fans have for him. Nelson completed 15 of 17 passes for 246 yards and three touchdowns, and the Gophers outgained Purdue 356 to 112 in yards from scrimmage in the first half.

“We didn’t play very well in the first half,” said Purdue coach Danny Hope after the game, citing problems with quarterback protection, dropped passes, an ineffective pass rush, and his defense biting on play-action and other double-breaking plays. “It was a huge set back.”

Hope’s team, coming off an overtime loss to Ohio State, started well, stopping the Gophers and forcing a shanked punt by Christian Eldred that gave the Boilermakers the ball on the Minnesota 46 yard line. On Purdue’s second play, Akeem Shavers ran 40 yards, and the Boilermakers found the end zone on a third-down pass from Caleb TerBush to Brandon Cottom.

“I was disappointed with the way we started, but after we got some momentum it was kind of like how we’ve been on the other side of it,” said Minnesota coach Jerry Kill. “Everything just seemed to fall into place and we executed well.”

Nelson completed his next 12 passes, leading to four touchdowns. The first was a 34-yard pass to Derrick Engel, who took off on the right side and got by cornerback Frankie Williams. Nelson looked his way initially, checked for other receivers, and then put a well-placed pass into Engel’s hands for a touchdown.

It was Engel’s first touchdown with the Gophers and another, Rodrick Williams, got his first career score on the next possession, completing a 64-yard march with a 4-yard touchdown run. Each drive featured a nice catch by MarQueis Gray, who had started the season at quarterback. Injuries to Gray and Max Shortell led to a decision to start Nelson, who had been slated to redshirt his first year. Gray, after dealing with ankle problems, has come back to contribute as a receiver.

Early in the second quarter Nelson lofted a throw to A. J. Barker, who had some room away from cornerback Josh Johnson and caught the 38-Yes pass on his way into the end zone for another touchdown. Nelson and Barker connected again for a 63 yard scoring play to put the Gophers ahead 28-7. Jordan Wettstein, with the wind at his back, hit a pair of field goals, the second as time ran out, and the Gophers took a 34-7 lead back to the locker room.

The Minnesota defense was also dominating after Purdue’s first drive. Cornerback Michael Carter led the team with 4 tackles and also broke up 2 passes. Carter topped that on the opening drive of the second half. After defensive end Ben Perry knocked down a pass by TerBush, Carter knocked one away from Gary Bush. On third down TerBush scrambled 11 yards for a first down, Carter broke up a pass downfield intended for Bush and did the same on another pass to Bush, his third break up of the drive. On third down, Carter intercepted a pass for Bush and returned it 43 yards for a touchdown. Carter broke up one more pass in the game, tying a Minnesota record set by Michael Lehan in 2001 for pass break ups.

The Gophers got another field goal from Wettstein for a 44-7 lead and then played conservatively. Purdue, bringing in Robert Marve and Rob Henry at quarterback, scored three touchdowns, the final one with just over two minutes to play, to make the score closer.

Nelson didn’t connect any passes in the second half, finishing with 15 completions in 22 attempts. Donnell Kirkwood got 92 of his game-high 138 yards rushing in the second half. Barker had all five of his catches and 135 of his receiving yards in the first half.

Minnesota won its first conference game after losses to Iowa, Northwestern, and Wisconsin, and upped its overall record to 5-3. Purdue remained winless in the Big Ten and dropped to 3-5 overall. Besides the overtime loss to Ohio State, the Boilermakers had lost to two of the conference’s other top teams, Michigan and Wisconsin. Though the Minnesota game was the easiest to date in the Big Ten for Purdue, it came when the Boilermakers played one of their worst games of the season. The Gophers, on the other hand, were outstanding, and their performance may have been their most impressive victory since a win in 2005 at Wisconsin.

The Gophers had been under heavy criticism since an announcement a week-and-a-half before that they were paying $800,000 to get out of a commitment to play a pair of games in consecutive seasons in the coming years because Kill wanted an easier non-conference opponent. The decision to start the heralded Nelson against Wisconsin took a bit of the focus off the controversy, and the strong game against Purdue has removed a little more.

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