Observations On Minnesota-Purdue
Since there are no Minnesota bloggers out there, there's no Vicious Electronic Questioning this week. In its stead: a game impressions column on the Minnesota-Purdue game.
It's tough to judge the Minnesota offense against a team that's given up 35 points to Indiana State, 31 to Fake Miami (as Mark Hasty would put it), and 28 to Ball State. Boiler fans may argue that some of those points were put up in garbage time (7 to ISU and 14 to Ball State), but I repeat: Indiana State and Ball State. But we're going to try anyway.
Minnesota Pass Offense
...is severely hampered by Brian Cupito. Minnesota's impressive receiving trio of Matt Spaeth, Ernest Wheelwright, and Logan Payne got open quite a bit on what should be a legendarily bad Purdue secondary. It was about 50-50 whether Cupito could manage to hit whichever guy broke wide open. Minnesota ran a ton of WR screens as a result that worked decently well, but Payne is closer to Jeff Samarjaeixkia with the ball in his hands than Steve Breaston: not bad but not electric, either.
And it's not like Cupito's problems came from a fierce pass rush. Purdue ended up with three sacks, but those were essentially the only times they got any sort of rush on him. Is that a sign of a surprisingly competent offensive line or just a crappy Purdue rush? I don't know. Purdue does have a star defensive end in Anthony Spencer, who got two of his five sacks on the year versus the Gophers. His pass rush was held largely in check the rest of the game, though.
Minnesota Run Offense
...looked as strong as ever versus Purdue. Amir Pinnix has claimed the starting job from 250-pound converted linebacker Alex Daniels. Against Purdue, he showed himself adept at the quick zone cuts required of Minnesota backs and had a number of impressive runs. Daniels, on the other hand, is a lot like PJ Hill. He's a thumper but if you make him change direction in the backfield he's toast. I doubt he'll have much success versus us.
Of note: while our zone runs feature all our linemen moving in unison, when Minnesota runs to the outside they almost always pull a guard or the center or both to create a hole at the point of attack. Against Purdue they also faked end-arounds frequently, which opened up backside holes on a few of Pinnix's better runs.
This is not a game we're going to hold our opponent to 12 yards rushing, but it will give us some definitive proof about the rushing defense.
Minnesota Pass Defense
...yikes. Much like Cupito, Curtis Painter spent a large portion of the game vastly overthrowing wide open receivers. He he made a number of good throws but was far from surgical. Of note: while Purdue got to Cupito at least a few times, no Gopher came within three yards of Painter the whole game. What happened to Steve Davis, who terrorized Rueben Riley a year ago? I don't know. Purdue does have a veteran line that may well be better than Michigan's -- our performance in pass protection versus Minnesota will be a good measuring stick.
Coverage was somewhere between understandably spotty and nonexistent. Dorient Bryant was Manningham-versus-ND open on a second-quarter flag route that went for a touchdown. Purdue's tight end had a 50 or 60 yard reception to dig the Boilers out of a big hole when he got way behind the Minnesota linebackers.
Minnesota Run Defense
Had the occasional nice play, but also featured a lot of flaming incompetence. Kory Sheets and Jaycen Taylor -- both fast little scatback sorts -- combined for 166 yards on 25 carries, almost all of it from either a spread shotgun or that weird "pistol" half-shotgun that is coming into vogue. With six or seven guys in the box, they couldn't handle Purdue's rush game. Defensive tackles got no penetration, leaving linebackers attempting to pick through the mess and usually a blocker to get to a running back. When Minnesota brought an extra player in the unblocked linebacker flowed to the ball well, but without overloading the box the Gophers were helpless.
Chris from Dangerous Logic proposed a theory: our running game may struggle more versus Minnesota than it would against other teams of similar talent because Minnesota's defense has seen plenty of zone running. I buy that to some extent, but this front isn't Wisconsin or even Notre Dame's. If we can't consistently open up holes against them it's a bad sign.