Boilermakers look to apply bye week fixes in Big Ten opener vs. Gophers

Purdue receiver Rondale Moore leads the Big Ten in receptions per game -- and that's just the start of his glowing resume.
Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

Purdue coach Jeff Brohm got back to basics during last week’s bye.

He worked on technique. He rested players who needed to get healthy. And he reiterated the need to play more physical.

The messages were short, sweet and simple, and Brohm will find out Saturday if his points made an impact when the Boilermakers host Minnesota in the teams’ Big Ten opener.

“It was more physical. It was in full pads. We got a lot of good contact work,” Brohm said, referring to last week’s practices. “I think both sides of the ball need to get better at being more physical and trying to dominate the line of scrimmage and trying to win football games in that manner before we get into all the cute stuff we like to run. I think we did see some improvement.”

The Boilermakers (1-2) need wins after a fourth-quarter collapse led to an inexplicable season-opening loss at Nevada. Two weeks ago, without starting quarterback Elijah Sindelar, Purdue lost at home to TCU.

It remains unclear whether Sindelar, who has thrown for 932 yards and nine touchdowns, will return from a concussion this week. If he can’t play, redshirt freshman Jack Plummer will likely make his second straight start.

Unbeaten Minnesota, meanwhile, won its first three games by a combined 13 points. They have won five straight and six of their last seven overall, and quarterback Tanner Morgan is 7-2 as the starter.

The last time these teams played, Morgan led the Gophers to a 41-10 victory. Gophers coach P.J. Fleck doesn’t expect a repeat Saturday.

“We want to be better today than we were yesterday, and I think if we do that, we’ll be a pretty good team,” Fleck said.

Purdue has been here before with Brohm. The Boilermakers rebounded from last season’s 0-3 start with four straight wins, and after falling to 3-5 in 2017, Purdue won four of its last five.

Brohm believes it can happen again with the right changes.

“They’ve got to show us that they want to compete and knock people back, and that’s on both sides of the line,” Brohm said. “That’s where most games are going to be won is in the trenches, and we’ve got to get better.”

BROOKS IS BACK

Gophers running back Shannon Brooks is expected to finally make his season debut Saturday after dressing for the first three games.

The fifth-year senior missed the first half of last season recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee suffered during winter conditioning. He ran 22 times for 154 yards and one touchdown against Indiana before a right knee injury kept him out the rest of last season.

He rushed for 1,359 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2015 and 2016 but has played in only seven games since and just one since Oct. 28, 2017. In two appearances against Purdue, Brooks has 35 carries for 292 yards and one TD.

LOOKING FOR MOORE

Purdue’s quarterback situation might not matter much to receiver Rondale Moore.

He leads the Big Ten in receptions per game (9.0) and needs one catch to move into a tie for No. 14 on the school’s career receptions list and two TD catches to move into a tie for 10th all-time. In addition, his next 100-yard game will give Moore sole possession of fourth with 10. And in 16 career games, he’s caught passes from three different quarterbacks.

ROAD WARRIORS

Minnesota won its first road game at Fresno State and has now won three straight outside Minneapolis, including last year’s bowl game in Detroit. The Golden Gophers haven’t won four straight away from home since 2003 and haven’t opened a season with back-to-back road wins since 2009. But things could change at Purdue, a team Minnesota has beaten five times in the last six matchups.

ENCORE PERFORMANCE?

When Purdue linebacker Markus Bailey went down with a season-ending knee injury, graduate transfer Nick Holt took advantage of his opportunity. He recorded 17 tackles against TCU, the highest single-game total by a Boilermakers player since Willie Fells had 20 in 1997. If Holt, the son of Purdue’s defensive coordinator, does it again, it wouldn’t be a surprise. He leads the Big Ten with 11.7 tackles per game.