A pair of Big Ten squads still looking for their first conference victories of the season will square off when Minnesota travels to face Purdue on Saturday afternoon. The Golden Gophers are coming off a tough home loss to Maryland, while the Boilermakers had a bye last weekend after dropping their league opener to Michigan
Minnesota is averaging over 30 points a contest while holding opponents to just 13.8 per game, but it will have its hands full with a Purdue squad that is putting up just under 30 points an outing. The Gophers’ offense is balanced, averaging 180.8 rushing yards and 187 passing yards, with quarterback Conor Rhoda (685 passing yards, three TDs) at the controls after coach P.J. Fleck juggled signal callers earlier in the season. Boilermakers quarterback David Blough has been accurate with the football, completing 70 percent of his passes, but he also hasn’t taken many chances, averaging just 11.2 yards per completion. Purdue’s defense has improved this year in many areas, including turnover margin, where the Boilermakers are a plus-4 on the season after being minus-17 last year.
TV: 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2. LINE: Purdue -4
ABOUT MINNESOTA (3-1, 0-1 Big Ten): The Golden Gophers’ running game has struggled of late, but thoughts around the team are that the return of suspended quarterback Demry Croft, who has sat out the last two contests, will provide a boost. Croft rushed for 96 yards on just seven carries in the first two games of the season, coming in for Rhoda, who Fleck prefers to keep in the pocket as much as possible in order to keep him healthy. Minnesota rushed for just 80 yards on 31 carries in the loss to Maryland, so, even though he’s listed as the third quarterback on this week’s depth chart, Croft could come into the game Saturday to try to give the ground attack another option and a little more flash.
ABOUT PURDUE (2-2, 0-1): Purdue’s depth on the defensive side of the ball will be put to the test this week -- at least in the first half -- as starting free safety Jacob Thieneman and starting middle linebacker Ja‘Whaun Bentley will be out because of targeting penalties against Michigan. The losses are significant, as Thieneman is considered the defense’s “quarterback” because he calls the defenses and Bentley is the team’s leading tackler with 29 stops. Walk-on Antonio Blackmon is expected to get more time in Thieneman’s absence, while senior Garrett Hudson will likely take Bentley’s spot in the starting lineup.
1. Minnesota will likely be without its two starting safeties this week, as Antoine Winfield Jr. is slowed by a left hamstring injury and Duke McGhee remains suspended because of a violation of team rules.
2. Purdue is one of just 12 teams in the country that is perfect in the red zone this season, scoring on all 15 trips.
3. The Golden Gophers have won the last four matchups between the teams, though three of those were in Minneapolis. Purdue has won nine of the last 11 meetings played in Ross-Ade Stadium.
PREDICTION: Purdue 27, Minnesota 23