It was like something out of a bad dream. The crowd watched in silence as two of Purdue’s biggest stars lay injured on the field.
With three minutes remaining in the first quarter, fifth-year quarterback Elijah Sindelar was sacked by Minnesota senior defensive end Tai’yon Devers. Sindelar, who had just returned from a concussion, slammed his head into the turf and could not continue play.
On the same play, sophomore wide receiver Rondale Moore — Purdue’s most productive offensive player — buckled his knee while running a route and was carried off the field.
Purdue’s offense did all it could to step up in their absence but fell short, losing to Minnesota (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) 38-31 on Saturday.
Freshman defensive end George Karlaftis, who recorded five tackles and 1 1/2 sacks in Saturday’s game, knew the Boilermakers (1-3, 0-1) would have to continue to compete without their leaders.
“It’s football, so people are gonna go down,” Karlaftis said. “We need to do better of having the next-man-up mentality.”
Redshirt freshman Jack Plummer, the Boilermakers’ second-string quarterback, was called upon once again to replace the injured Sindelar. In his absence, Plummer threw 23-41, with two passing touchdowns.
“I think he competed and played hard,” head coach Jeff Brohm said. “I see a competitor.”
Despite throwing two interceptions, Plummer threw for 245 yards of offense and brought a spark to the Boiler offense not seen since the Vanderbilt game.
“(Plummer) plays really hard,” freshman running back King Doerue said. “He just brings energy. I know if (Plummer is) going on the field, he’s giving his all.”
Doerue gave the Boilermakers the best rushing effort they’ve seen all year in his first career start.
“He ran hard (and) he ran physical,” Brohm said. “I thought (Doerue) played outstanding.”
Doerue, who rushed for 94 yards off 20 carries, scored three of Purdue’s four touchdowns. Two were rushing touchdowns, and one was receiving.
“They were playing inside, so I was just using my speed to bounce it, and I just took what the defense gave me,” Doerue said.
All three of Doerue’s touchdowns came in the second half, where the Boiler offense finally started clicking.
“At this level you have to play and compete for 60 minutes,” Brohm said. “Right now, that’s not happening. I do like the way that they competed harder in the second half, and I think we just need to have a lot of guys step up and improve, and we’ve got to get it done rapidly.”
While trailing by two scores, an onside kick was recovered by sophomore running back Zander Horvath with six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, giving the team a new spark of hope.
“(During) the second half, I think we did a great job with our effort,” Karlaftis said. “We’re down three scores; it’s a three possession game, so after that onside kick, that was great to rally and try to finish the game, but we’ve got to get better.”
Despite overcoming a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit, the Boilermaker offense still couldn’t match Minnesota’s offensive output.
“I’m very disappointed in our pass defense,” Brohm said. “I have been for a while. We gave up way too many yards, way too many completions.”
Minnesota sophomore quarterback Tanner Morgan went 21-22 passing, throwing for 396 yards. Minnesota’s receivers, senior Tyler Johnson and sophomores Rashod Bateman and Chris Autman-Bell, pulled in a total of four receiving touchdowns. Minnesota’s offense made big plays across the middle of the field all game.
“The attention to details wasn’t there,” said senior safety Navon Mosley. “That’s a focus thing. Paying attention to details is really easy, but for some reason, people don’t do it all the time, so that’s when big plays happen.”
With the loss of Moore, the Boilermakers were forced to change their original offensive game plan. Junior receiver Jackson Anthrop, who was expected to split carries at running back, took only one hand-off, but recorded seven receptions for 66 yards.
“We had a bunch of guys down,” Brohm said. “We had to play receivers that we weren’t gonna play, and we’re trying to just piece some things together on the fly. He got a lot more touches than he would have. He was in there a lot.”
Even after losing Moore, Purdue still has a strong core of receivers who have potential to make game changing plays. With junior Jared Sparks expected to return next week to join Anthrop, along with freshmen David Bell and Milton Wright, the Boilermaker offense can still be a threat in the near future.
“Our pass game was really great,” Doerue said. “If we can manage to put a run game in there, we can be deadly.”
Playing with a relatively young team due to so many injuries, the Boilermakers know they have not performed up to standard.
“We’re not where we need to be, so we’ve got to get guys experienced,” Brohm said. “We have to get better.”
Purdue’s next matchup will be against Penn State University at noon on Saturday, in State College, Pennsylvania.