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October 27, 2012

'A huge setback'

MINNEAPOLIS - This wasn't supposed to happen.

Even though Purdue was riding a three-game losing streak coming to Minnesota, the Boilermakers were able to gain some momentum off the heart-breaking road loss to No. 7 Ohio State last week, coaches and players said.

And the Gophers not only had yet to win in Big Ten play, they'd scored a combined 39 points in their three league games.

And they were playing with a true freshman quarterback without two starting linemen in front of him.

And their defense hadn't forced a turnover yet in conference play.

And Minnesota's first three league opponents rushed for an average of 242 yards.

It all seemed to add up to Purdue snapping its skid, regaining confidence and finishing the season with a flourish.

But it didn't.

The Gophers were shockingly dominant, especially in the first half, and cruised to a 44-28 victory Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium.

"I would use (the word) surprised, uncertain right now, that's really how I feel about it," said senior running back Akeem Shavers, who rushed for a team-high 78 yards. "I didn't see this coming. We usually play good. We've been on the road the last couple times, Ohio State on the road at their house, giving them a good game really had drove our confidence high.

"We just didn't leave it all on the field like we should have."

The start was good - Purdue (3-5, 0-4 Big Ten) forced Minnesota (5-3, 1-3) into a three-and-out and then scored on its first drive, taking a 7-0 lead less than four minutes into the game.

But the Boilermakers quickly unraveled.

The Gophers scored on their final six series of the half, four touchdowns and two field goals.

Purdue managed only 53 yards on its five drives in the first half after the TD.

By halftime, Minnesota nearly had scored more points (34) than it had in its first three Big Ten games combined.

"It's a huge setback," Coach Danny Hope said. "We have struggled to regain our confidence as a football team. We opened the season with a lot of confidence, a lot of fire as a football team and played well for the most part and then had two ugly games at home and lost some confidence as a team in some ways. I thought coming back and playing Ohio State like we played them last week would add some fuel to our fire, if you will, but that didn't seem to be the case in the first half. I thought we practiced well throughout the course of the week. I thought the coaches had a good plan. But we didn't play very well in the first half, that's for sure."

The defense was exposed on a handful of plays by the true freshman QB, Philip Nelson, that contributed to the lopsided first half.

In the first quarter, to answer Purdue's score, Nelson used a shoulder fake and Derrick Engel sold a short route to get cornerback Frankie Williams to bite, and then Engel raced past Williams and caught a 34-yard touchdown.

On the next series, Nelson delivered a deep ball down the sideline to MarQueis Gray over Josh Johnson, who appeared to stop running. It went for 33 yards, and Minnesota ran for a TD on the next play.

On the next series, Johnson bit on another shoulder fake and double move, and A.J. Barker scored a 38-yard touchdown.

Less than four minutes later, the next time Minnesota had the ball, Barker got behind Purdue's defense again, Taylor Richards was the last DB giving chase, for a 63-yard TD.

By that point, Nelson, making only his second start, had completed 11-of-12 passes for 226 yards.

Hope characterized Purdue's mistakes in the secondary simply as "poor play."

Johnson, the senior starter, couldn't disagree.

"They sold it well," Johnson said. "They ran it like it was going to be a short route, and as soon as we broke on it, they came out of their break and went to their second-level route. They did a great job on making us miss and making us show like it was a good route. Our eyes killed us a lot in the back half. They capitalized on it."

And the defense just kept going back on the field because the offense couldn't keep any drive going into the third quarter.

After the five-play, 46-yard TD drive to start the game, Purdue had drives of three, five, six, three, five, six and three plays with starter Caleb TerBush. The second six-play drive ended when TerBush threw a pick-six, boosting Minnesota's lead to 41-7.

Robert Marve immediately started warming up but didn't have time to enter on the next drive. So TerBush's final drive started with a sack - he was hit from behind and fumbled, but it was recovered by Purdue - and ended with a punt after two more plays.

Marve came in, then, and produced 25 plays, 152 yards and two touchdowns on his first two drives.

But it was too little too late, even with Purdue's defense finally shoring up a bit.

"It's kind of been a rocky season, just numbers-wise," Marve said. "We kind of bounced back strong against Ohio State and obviously didn't show up good enough (Saturday). You've got to roll with the punches. We're playing next week no matter what, and we've got to get ready.

"(We're) right back in the same situation we were before. We talked about it as a team - we've got to learn. When you lose at something, you've got to figure out why you lost. We've got to do a better job at that. There's no reason to sit back here and be negative. We lost a game we should have won, talent-wise. You look on film, I felt great about this week. This is not the outcome we thought was going to happen."

Crosby Wright actually called the team's performance "confusing," as well as frustrating.

But the Boilermakers have to find answers in a hurry.

Purdue now is faced with a tough final stretch, needing to win three of its final four games to reach six victories and become bowl eligible for the second consecutive year.

Kawann Short said 6-6 won't be a successful season.

"That's what happened last year," Short said. "We felt like we should be a way better team right now. There's no excuse, pretty much. We all just have to have that want-to."

Taylor Richards said winning out is possible.

Other players who spoke with reporters after the game agreed, saying they still believe in each other.

Shavers said, "This really isn't the team we are."

But Purdue is running out of time to prove otherwise.

"There's not that many games left," Marve said. "We've got to get hot. We've got to get hot now. Backs against the wall is the best time to fight."

Copyright, Boilers, Inc. 2012. All Rights Reserved. Reproducing or using editorial or graphical content, in whole or in part, without permission, is strictly prohibited. E-mail GoldandBlack.com/Boilers, Inc.

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