Good morning from Huntington Bank Stadium, where the No. 21-ranked Gophers take on Purdue in their homecoming game at 11 a.m. (ESPN2, 100.3-FM). With a dominant, 34-7 victory at Michigan State in the Big Ten opener last week, the Gophers (4-0) kept their early season run going story. They'll try to extend their overall win streak to eight games against a Boilermakers (2-2, 0-1 Big Ten) squad with health questions at quarterback.
Aidan O'Connell, Purdue's starting QB and a second-team All-Big Ten performer last year, missed last week's 28-26 win over Florida Atlantic because of an undisclosed injury suffered the week before in a 32-29 loss at Purdue. While coach Jeff Brohm on Thursday told Purdue beat reporters that O'Connell will be a game-time decision, ESPN reported Saturday morning that O'Connell will start. Backup Austin Burton, who passed for three TDs last week, is in line O'Connell, with Michael Alaimo the No. 3 QB, too.
The Gophers have steamrolled the opposition so far by a combined score of 183-24, with the offense holding the ball for a nation's-best 40 minutes, 34.8 seconds per game and the first-team defense not allowing a touchdown yet.
Here are some things for which I'm watching today:
Can the Gophers stop Charlie Jones?
Be it O'Connell or Burton, his main target is sure to be Jones, a sixth-year senior and transfer from Iowa who leads FBS with 41 catches and seven touchdown receptions. Jones served notice of how good he can be by catching 12 passes for 153 yards and a TD in the season-opening 35-31 loss to Penn State. He's been a Gophers-killer, too. Last year, he had a 72-yard TD reception that put Iowa ahead for good in its 27-22 win over Minnesota, and he also set up the Hawkeyes' first TD with a 34-yard catch. He's also a fearless punt and kick returner, earning Big Ten Return Specialist of the Year in 2021.
Will the Gophers stars shine?
Entering the season, it was clear the Gophers had a deep team with talent, but there were questions if they had star power. Four games in, and two stars on offense have re-emerged.
In 2020, Mohamed Ibrahim was one of the best running backs in the country, rushing for 1,076 yards in seven games and averaging 153.7 per contest, second most in the country. After being lost for the 2021 season in the opener, he's back at No. 2 in the land with 141.8 yards per game while playing only one second-half series in each game. According to Pro Football Focus College, of Ibrahim's 573 rushing yards, 388 have come after contact, the most in FBS.
In 2019, Tanner Morgan was one of the best quarterbacks in the country, passing for 3,253 yards and 30 touchdowns while ranking fourth nationally in passer rating. You might have heard of the three QBs ahead of him: LSU's Joe Burrow, Oklahoma's Jalen Hurts and Ohio State's Justin Fields. This year, Morgan has been reunited with offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca, his boss back in 2019, and again is fourth nationally in passer rating and ranks second in completion percentage (77.2%). Pro Football Focus College gives him a season grade of 95.2, which not only leads all QBs, but it also leads all FBS players.
Ibrahim and Morgan have kept the Gophers offense humming, and it's a good bet they'll continue to do so again today.
Will Purdue make a stand?
Entering the season, the Boilermakers were largely considered to be among four teams with a shot at winning the Big Ten's West Division. Wisconsin was given the favorite's nod in the Cleveland.com preseason media poll, followed by Iowa, the Gophers and Purdue. After absorbing a Big Ten loss in the opener, the Boilermakers know that a second conference loss would severely hurt their title hopes, especially with Wisconsin and Iowa still on the schedule. Purdue should be a team playing with desperation. We'll see if that plays out.
Check back later for pregame updates.