An inspired late effort made things interesting, but the story of Purdue’s 38-31 loss to Minnesota came on one play late in the first quarter that may severely impact the remaining course of this season. Injuries are beginning to cripple the Boilermakers.
Fifth-year senior quarterback Elijah Sindelar returned under center after suffering a concussion during Purdue’s (1-3, 0-1) week two win over Vanderbilt, but left Saturday’s ballgame against the Golden Gophers (4-0, 1-0) after landing hard on his left shoulder. On the same play, sophomore wideout Rondale Moore was chipped off the line of scrimmage and looked to have hyperextended his left leg. They both did not return.
Entering merely his 17th career game, Moore was ascending several Purdue all-time rankings. The sophomore ranked in the top-20 in career receptions (141) as well as receiving touchdowns (14), while also sharing a tie for fourth in career 100-yard receiving games. The preseason Heisman Trophy candidate is considered by many as a first round draft talent, but the extent of his injury could create an issue in his competitive future.
Sindelar, meanwhile, in his third year under head coach Jeff Brohm’s system, offered plenty of optimism following his 932 yards and nine touchdowns through Purdue’s first two games. He is the first Boilermaker to pass for 400-plus yards in back-to-back games since Drew Brees did it in 1998. The quarterback was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week for his performance against Vanderbilt where he threw for 509 yards and five touchdowns.
The losses of the two aforementioned key players comes on the heels of a week three performance against TCU in which five starters, who totaled over 100 games of combined experience, were kept out due to injury. Following a much-needed bye week, Purdue returned to West Lafayette mostly healthy, but could not figure out a way to stop a Golden Gophers offense that torched the Boilermakers secondary for 396 yards through the air and four touchdowns.
Minnesota redshirt sophomore quarterback Tanner Morgan tossed an incompletion in the waning seconds of the second quarter, which turned out to be his only misfire of the day. Morgan finished 21-of-22 and benefitted from a 70-yard, a 45-yard and 47-yard touchdown on plays wide open over the middle.
The Gophers managed five touchdowns, one field goal and a missed 51-yard field goal attempt across their initial nine possessions. Minnesota finished with 488 total yards of offense. It was the fourth consecutive game in which Purdue has allowed over 400 yards of total offense.
Credit the Boilermakers for fighting to the finish, though. Redshirt freshman Jack Plummer took over late in the first half and provided plenty of life. In his second career collegiate appearance, Plummer threw for 245 yards on 23-of-41 passing with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
The numbers do a poor job of telling the whole story of Plummer’s performance. He showcased his elusiveness throughout by avoiding sacks, rolling out of the pocket and keeping plays alive. Even his incompletions were quality throws either out of bounds or away from the defender where his receiver is absolutely the only player to have a chance at the ball.
Plummer’s most impressive drive came in the fourth quarter down 38-17. Backed up on his own one yard-line, Plummer marched downfield in 15 plays, completed four passes totaling 61 yards and watched his running back bruise his way into the end zone to complete the 99-yard scoring drive.
Then, following a successful Purdue onside kick, the young signal-caller led an eight-play, 53-yard drive that ended in a 13-yard pitch and catch to cut the Boilermaker deficit to seven with 3:59 remaining.
After trailing by 21 about halfway through the fourth quarter, Purdue clawed their way back and needed a defensive stop for a chance at a game-tying or winning offensive series. On third-down-and-six on the Minnesota 29, a controversial pass interference penalty against the Boilers gave the Gophers an automatic first down. Minnesota managed two more first downs to effectively seal the victory.
On top of Plummer’s positive offensive performance, Purdue got big-time production from freshman running back King Doerue and freshman wide receiver David Bell.
Brohm noted postgame that he wanted to make a “concerted effort” to establish the running game, as his program is ranked among the bottom in the FCS in total rushing. Doerue had a career day scoring three total touchdowns and rushing for 94 yards on 20 carries on top of his four catches for 32 yards receiving. What made Doerue’s effort even more impressive is the fact Purdue was forced to use nine offensive linemen in the contest due to injury.
With junior wideout Jared Sparks inactive, Bell stepped in and had a career day himself. Following Moore’s injury, Bell was the feature receiver in the Boilermaker offense, totaling 14 targets and reeling in eight catches for 114 yards, which are both career-highs. The freshman was held out of the end zone, but the 6-2, 210 lb receiver showcased several aspects of his skill set that should encourage Purdue’s coaching staff moving forward.
Junior wideout Jackson Anthrop provided some value by catching seven passes for 66 yards. Defensively, George Karlaftis finished his day with five tackles and 1.5 sacks. The Purdue defense did not force a turnover. The Boilermakers finished with 123 rushing yards, which is a season-high.
Of course, the immediate concerns surround the health of Sindelar and Moore, but something just as pressing includes Purdue’s ability to limit the big plays and getting off the field defensively. Minnesota totaled 21 first downs and 38 points on just 56 plays – 26 fewer than Purdue.
Positive signs include optimism surrounding a young running back who established some credibility to the program on Saturday, as well as a quarterback who may very well have to take over the position for the foreseeable future, barring the severity of Sindelar’s shoulder.
The schedule does not get any easier, as the Boilermakers travel to No. 12 Penn State on Saturday, October 5 at 12:00p ET. The undefeated Nittany Lions are coming off a 59-0 road win over Maryland.