WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The Gophers took their second straight Big Ten whipping Saturday. The silver lining will be put on hold, at least temporarily.
Minnesota (1-5 overall, 0-2 Big Ten) managed to avoid a second straight shutout at Purdue, but the ineptitude continued in a lopsided 45-17 loss.
The Boilermakers’ victory over Minnesota pulled Purdue (3-2) within a win of evening the all-time series.
After the carnage, Gophers head coach Jerry Kill preached optimism and reiterated that he’s been through a similar rebuilding process at Southern Illinois.
“I’ve been down this road before. It’s one of those things where you keep talking, you keep pushing them, you keep teaching them,” he said.
“I really feel bad for our kids. I want them to do well. I want so bad to see them make a play right now and have something good happen.”
True freshman Max Shortell made his second consecutive start at quarterback for Minnesota.
After two three-and-out series, a fumbled handoff exchange with Donnell Kirkwood and 17 Purdue points, Shortell was benched in favor of a hobbled MarQueis Gray.
“We needed some type of spark. We just had nothing go right in the first quarter,” Kill said of the switch.
Unfortunately for Minnesota, the switch served the Boilermakers better and the only spark was the backfire the move created. Gray’s second pass attempt was intercepted by Ricardo Allen and the sophomore cornerback returned the pass 37 yards for a touchdown to give Purdue a 24-0 lead.
The Gophers’ offense was never able to recover. Purdue tacked on another touchdown in the second quarter before Minnesota’s Chris Hawthorne kicked a 47-yard field goal near the end of the half.
That kick put the Gophers on the scoreboard for the first time in more than six quarters.
The Boilermakers entered cruise control in the second half and coasted to an easy victory.
Purdue quarterbacks Caleb TerBush and Robert Marve were efficient in running the offense while splitting time and the Boilermakers ground game was dominant.
Junior running back Akeem Shavers led a group of Purdue ball carriers that combined for 216 yards and three touchdowns.
Freshman Marcus Jones was one of the Gophers’ increasingly sparse bright spots. In the final minute of the third quarter, the speedster returned a kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown.
Gray, who sat out last week’s game with a toe injury, played the remainder of the game at quarterback after making his first appearance late in the first quarter.
Unsure who the starter would be, Purdue head coach Danny Hope said he prepared his defense for both Shortell and Gray.
“We had a game plan for both quarterbacks. We had certain things we thought they would do with [Gray], and we had certain things they would do with their young guy,” Hope said.
“We had one plan for both their quarterbacks, and a couple nuances for [Gray].”
Gray completed just 8-for-20 passes for 104 yards and the early interception. He did add a one-yard rushing touchdown midway through the fourth quarter, but after the game he expressed disappointment with the passing game.
“I’ve just got to make better throws and we’ve just got to catch the ball,” he said. “That’s all that needs to be done.”
Minnesota is idle next weekend, and will resume play when it hosts its homecoming game Oct. 22 against Nebraska.
The bye week will afford the Gophers some time to regroup for a second half schedule that includes Wisconsin, Illinois and the aforementioned Cornhuskers — all teams currently ranked in the Associated Press top-25.
“I think it’s come at a good time,” Gray said of the bye. “We need all the experience and reps; we need to keep getting better as a team. As much work as we can get, we need.”
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