The Gophers looked like a different team on Saturday as they (5-5, 2-5 Big Ten) beat the Boilermakers (5-5, 4-2 Big Ten) in a 41-10 upset victory at a chilly TCF Bank Stadium.
No one could predict what happened Saturday night as Purdue came to Minnesota as double-digit favorites with a seventh-ranked passing offense and three victories over ranked opponents. Illinois had just stomped on Minnesota the week before in a 55-31 victory that caused head coach P.J. Fleck to fire defensive coordinator Robb Smith.
"This team showed a lot of heart, character and integrity tonight," Fleck said. "I'm so proud to be their coach, I'm so proud to be able to address them after the game, and I told them I'm so glad to have our football team back after last week's performance."
The Gophers had a 13-3 lead at halftime. The Gophers defense, under new leadership of interim defensive coordinator Joe Rossi, allowed 68 total first half yards to the Boilermakers’ offense. Purdue came into the game with the seventh-best passing offense in FBS football, with an average of 330 passing yards per game.
Gophers linebacker Blake Cashman stripped the ball out of Purdue quarterback David Blough's hands on the first drive of the second half, and he picked it up and started running. There were no defenders around him, and he ran for a 40-yard touchdown. That gave the Gophers a 20-3 lead with under a minute played in the third quarter.
It was the first fumble recovery touchdown since 2013 for the Gophers, and it gave way to a productive second half of Minnesota scoring.
"I just sat there for the quarterback and he came, and he tried to stiff arm me, and I hit his arm down and saw there was an opportunity to go for the ball," Cashman said. "So I seized that moment."
On the next offensive drive, wildcat quarterback Seth Green scored a two-yard rushing touchdown for a 27-3 lead at 10:26. His touchdown was set up by a 35-yard catch from Tyler Johnson and a 43-yard rush from running back Mohamed Ibrahim.
The Gophers finished with 415 total yards of offense, and held the Boilermakers to 233. Minnesota's defense never allowed a third down conversion on 12 opportunities for Purdue.
"Purdue was 0-12 on third down. That's the key statistic everybody: we got them off the field," Fleck said. "We said we wanted to be simple, sound, and fast. Heck of a game plan."
The defensive performance was the best since the third game of the season, when Minnesota defeated Miami (Ohio) 26-3, giving up 199 total yards.
"They just had so much energy and they were just swarming to the ball," quarterback Tanner Morgan said about his defense. "We're just so proud of them. They obviously went through a lot."
The game marked Morgan's third start and second victory. He finished with 10-18 pass completions, for 139 yards, an interception and a touchdown. Leading-running back Ibrahim tallied 155 yards on 18 carries.
Bryce Williams added to the action with an 11-yard rushing touchdown with 4:37 to play in the third quarter. He ran straight, got stood up at the line, broke the tackle, and then ran around the outside for the score, putting his team ahead 34-3.
Johnson contributed to the lopsided offensive performance when he caught a pass from Morgan in the end zone for a 12-yard touchdown catch with 10:09 left in the game. After that touchdown, Minnesota led 41-3.
Purdue scored its only touchdown with 5:28 left in the fourth quarter when receiver Rondale Moore caught a Blough pass for a 9-yard reception touchdown. Moore was the second-highest producing receiver in the Big Ten going into the matchup, only trailing Minnesota's Johnson.
Penalties were costly to Purdue in the fist half Saturday, and the only Gophers' touchdown of the first half came after a 15-yard 'hands-to-the-face' penalty kept the Gophers’ drive alive. Seth Green finished the drive with an 11-yard passing touchdown to wide open tight end Jake Paulson. It was Paulson's first collegiate touchdown.
"Execution was just much higher," said linebacker Thomas Barber , comparing the game to last week's loss. "Obviously, there were still mistakes in there, but execution was much higher from last week."
Minnesota will play Northwestern Saturday, Nov. 17 in the last home game of the season.