The Gophers faced little adversity during their 4-0 start to the season, outscoring opponents by a combined 183-24 and looking every bit like the favorite to win the Big Ten's West Division.
Saturday, however, adversity appeared in many forms for the No. 21-ranked Gophers, and much of it was self-inflicted in a 20-10 loss to Purdue on Homecoming at Huntington Bank Stadium.
“I didn't play well enough for us to win this football game today. It's a tough pill to swallow, but I have to look back and understand how I can get better.”
Mitchell Fineran's 25-yard field goal with 4:57 left in the fourth quarter broke a 10-10 tie, and Devin Mockobee's 68-yard gain that set up a TD with 3:13 to play stunned the crowd of 48,288. Purdue (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten) ended the Gophers' seven-game winning streak.
"We didn't play well enough to win,'' Gophers coach P.J. Fleck said. "We didn't deserve to win tonight. And I believe in life you get what you deserve.''
From the start, Minnesota's problems spelled trouble.
- Running back Mohamed Ibrahim warmed up but did not play because of an ankle injury he suffered and played through last week at Michigan State. His loss was glaring. Minus the nation's leader in yards after contact — 388 of his 573 rushing total — Minnesota rushed for only 47 yards. Fleck said Ibrahim was close to playing but not quite ready.
"We didn't block very well up front,'' Fleck said. "They dominated the line of scrimmage, and that's pretty much our M.O. If they do that, then it's a game like that.''
- Fleck's gamble to go for the first down on fourth-and-1 from the Gophers 29 in the first quarter backfired, with Cole Kramer stuffed for no gain. That led to a field goal for the Boilermakers.
- Previously perfect Gophers kicker Matthew Trickett missed a 28-yard field goal in the second quarter. That's three points lost, and it wasted a 66-yard pass play from Tanner Morgan to Daniel Jackson.
- Wide receiver Mike Brown-Stephens, wide open in the end zone, had a would-be touchdown pass in the second quarter go through his hands, bounce off his chest and land into the arms of Purdue defensive back Cam Allen for an interception. That's seven points lost.
"We drop a touchdown that hits us in the chest," Fleck said. "That is not how we played the last month, but it's how we played tonight."
Morgan, who entered the game second nationally in completion percentage (77.2%) and fourth in quarterback rating (198.14), completed 18 of 33 passes for 257 yards and no touchdowns with three interceptions for the Gophers (4-1, 1-1). Jackson caught six passes for 110 yards.
"It starts with me," Morgan said. "I didn't play well enough for us to win this football game today. It's a tough pill to swallow, but I have to look back and understand how I can get better."
Trey Potts, not Ibrahim, started at running back for the Gophers, who went three-and-out on their first possession and saw Purdue drive 68 yards for a 7-0 lead on a 2-yard run by Dylan Downing with 8:59 left in the first quarter. The touchdown was the first given up by Minnesota's first-team defense this season.
After Fleck OK'd the unsuccessful fourth-and-1 run with 3:36 left in the first quarter, Purdue cashed in with Fineran's 43-yard field goal for a 10-0 lead. Fleck defended the call and said he was looking for a spark at that point of the game, but, "We just didn't execute," he said. "We got blown back."
Trickett's 45-yard field goal trimmed Purdue's lead to 10-3 with 10:22 left in the second quarter, and the Gophers tied it 10-10 on Bryce Williams' 1-yard run with 8:06 left in the third quarter.
From there, though, the Gophers didn't have an answer for the Boilermakers.
Fineran's go-ahead field goal came after Aidan O'Connell found Charlie Jones, the Iowa transfer and nation's leading pass-catcher, for a 28-yard gain to the Gophers 35 and a 9-yard throw to Downing on third-and-4 from the 18.
And when the Boilermakers forced the Gophers offense to go three-and-out with less than five minutes to play, Purdue sealed the win with Mockobee's big gain.
"In order to win a football game, especially in the Big Ten, you have to start fast, accelerate in the middle and finish strong," Gophers linebacker Mariano Sori-Marin said. "I don't think we started fast. I don't think we finished strong defensively."
Afterward, Fleck credited Purdue, saying the Boilermakers "forced us to not play well." He also noted that this loss doesn't have to define the season.
"Everything's in front of us,'' he said. "Everything's in front of us.''