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No. 21 Gophers vs. Purdue, 11 a.m. Saturday, Huntington Bank Stadium, ESPN2, 100.3-FM

By hammering Michigan State 34-7 on the road last week, the Gophers grabbed the attention of the college football world. The pollsters noticed, ranking Minnesota No. 21 in the AP Top 25. The next challenge: Keep a special season going on homecoming against Purdue while being the hunted instead of the hunter.

Three big story lines

1. Will QB Aidan O'Connell play for Purdue?

O'Connell, a sixth-year senior who passed for 3,712 yards and 28 TDs last year, suffered an undisclosed injury at Syracuse on Sept. 17 and didn't play last week against Florida Atlantic. Coach Jeff Brohm said O'Connell will be a game-time decision. If he can't play, backup Austin Burton will start.

2. How will the Gophers handle in-game adversity, if they get it?

So far, coach P.J. Fleck's team has yet to trail in a game. That can happen when the first-team defense hasn't surrendered a touchdown all season. Purdue, an offense-minded team under Brohm, figures to push the pace and has weapons like receiver Charlie Jones to put up points.

3. Will Tanner Morgan continue to spread the ball around?

Against Michigan State, Morgan overcame the absence of top receiver Chris Autman-Bell by spreading the ball among 10 different pass-catchers. Mike Brown-Stephens and Daniel Jackson are emerging as top targets, and Morgan is getting tight ends Brevyn Spann-Ford and Nick Kallerup in on the action.

Two key matchups

Purdue WR Charlie Jones vs. the Gophers secondary

Minnesota's secondary hasn't yet faced the caliber of receiver they will in Jones, the nation's leading pass-catcher with 41 grabs. Burton found him for nine receptions and two TD grabs against Florida Atlantic. Keeping the Iowa transfer in check would go a long way to shutting down Purdue's offense.

Gophers RB Mohamed Ibrahim vs. Purdue linebackers

Boilermakers coach Jeff Brohm wants to put the Gophers in passing situations, and to do so, Purdue must limit Ibrahim, who's second nationally at 141.8 yards per game. Ibrahim has 13 consecutive 100-yard rushing games, and extending that run should mean good things for the Gophers.

One stat that matters

40:34.8 The Gophers' nation's-best time of possession. If the opponent's offense is on the sideline, it'll have a difficult time scoring.

The Gophers will win if … they bottle up the formula they used at Michigan State. In other words, go on long touchdown drives with Ibrahim and the offensive line pounding the defense and Morgan spreading the ball around. And avoid turnovers that can give the opponent hope.

The Boilermakers will win if … either O'Connell or Burton finds Jones open often and the wideout becomes a problem for the Gophers; their running game keeps Purdue on the field; and the Boilers, who have two defensive TDs this season, force the Gophers into turnovers.


To their credit, the Gophers have made almost everything this season go their way, first against an easy nonconference schedule, but more impressively in their dominant effort at Michigan State. Logic says it's tough to sustain such dominance at every level, and certainly the Gophers will be tested this season. It could happen in this game against a Purdue team that's coming off a 9-4 season and sees opportunity in the Big Ten West race.

The Gophers stress their "one-game championship season'' approach, and that's led to a detail-oriented team that doesn't appear to be looking ahead. The calm leadership of Morgan, plus a defense that's owned third-down situations, should be enough to turn back a game effort from Purdue.

My expectation: Win No. 5 won't be as easy as the first four, but the Gophers wear down the Boilermakers with the run game and the defense continues to impress. Gophers 34, Purdue 17.