Like the Purdue men’s basketball team last season, the youth has had to take over Purdue football’s offensive production this season.
Purdue’s offense has taken a blow after a variety of injuries to key players: Junior wide receiver David Bell and junior tight end Payne Durham are both in the concussion protocol, while junior running back King Doerue is questionable with a non-COVID-19 medical condition. Despite the losses, the Boilermakers (3-1, 1-0 Big Ten) have seen major improvements and contributions from their younger players.
Running backs coach Chris Barclay heavily praised the performances of redshirt freshman Dylan Downing, who filled the starting role against Illinois, and freshman Ja’Quez Cross, who saw the first action of his collegiate career in the same game.
“I saw (Downing) take a step in the right direction from the Notre Dame game,” Barclay said. “He looked a little more confident.”
Being the only two backs in the “running back room,” Downing said, “we need to trust what we see and play with confidence.”
“(Cross) can catch out of the backfield, he’s quick, can get on edges easily and can destroy angles,” Downing said.
While the Boilermakers are favored over Minnesota (2-2, 0-1 Big Ten) by 2.5 points, the Gophers have locked down opposing run games, ranking No. 12 in the country and allowing just 77 rush yards on average per game. Downing emphasized that while he has confidence in the unit’s abilities, there is still plenty of room for improvement.
Downing said he wants to get better at trusting what he sees, hitting hard and lowering pads while becoming a more complete back and finding his role in the Big Ten.
The coming matchup features a number of Minnesota defensive stars who will test the Purdue offensive line this weekend. Lineman Boye Mafe, who has four sacks on the season, and linebacker Mariano Sori-Marin, who has 28 total tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and an interception this season, have spearheaded Minnesota’s pass rush while putting themselves on the radars of NFL squads.
Both teams will be fueled for this weekend’s game, as Minnesota is coming off of a devastating loss to Bowling Green. Purdue has not beaten Minnesota since the 2017 season, coming just shy of a victory last year, where a questionable pass interference call canceled out a game-winning touchdown.