Purdue could not overcome a 21-point, fourth-quarter deficit, falling short to Minnesota 38-31 on Saturday in Ross-Ade Stadium.
"We're disappointed in the outcome," Purdue coach Jeff Brohm said. "We worked hard in these last two weeks to improve, and it didn't show in the first half."
After recovering an onside kick in the fourth quarter, the Boilermakers (1-3, 0-1) closed a three-touchdown lead down to 7 points, showing a surge in offensive productions late in the game. After losing two who are arguably their best offensive players though, they didn't quite have enough to overcome the lead.
With three minutes remaining in the first quarter, fifth-year quarterback Elijah Sindelar, who had been returning from a concussion suffered in Week 2, was sacked by Minnesota senior defensive end Tai'yon Devers. Sindelar hit his shoulder hard on the field.
"Elijah, I'm not sure about, but it doesn't look good," Brohm said during his post-game press conference.
During the same play, sophomore wide receiver Rondale Moore went down clutching his leg, and had to be assisted off the field.
Nasty leg injury to Rondale Moore pic.twitter.com/KrA8tXIBc2— Dustin Schutte (@SchutteCFB) September 28, 2019
Sindelar returned to the sideline for the second quarter, but did not go back in the game. Moore, who spent most of the second quarter in the injury tent, was eventually carted back to the locker room.
"Rondale we're not sure about," Brohm said.
Purdue's offense rallied immediately following those injuries though, and put together an 11-play drive ending in a receiving touchdown from sophomore running back Zander Horvath — his first receiving touchdown of the year.
"It hurts," said freshman running back King Doerue about the loss of Sindelar and Moore. "They're two of our best players. We just knew we had to step up, and play our roles."
Toward the end of the second quarter, sophomore right guard DJ Washington was taken off the field with yet another leg injury.
The Boilermaker defense struggled tremendously in the passing game, giving up 396 yards and two receiving touchdowns. Minnesota receivers senior Tyler Johnson, and sophomores Chris Autman-Bell and Rashod Bateman made their living over the middle of the field, each pulling in touchdowns in the first half. Bateman had six receptions for 177 yards receiving, with two touchdowns. Johnson had eight receptions for 73 yards.
Minnesota's quarterback, sophomore Tanner Morgan, went 21 of 22 passing, making his first and only incompletion with less than four minutes to go in the half.
Offensively, the Boilermakers shook up the run game with Doerue in the backfield, who ended the game with three total touchdowns. Doerue had 19 carries for 93 yards, his best run being a 15-yard rush to set up Hovath's touchdown.
"Our line did a really good job," said Doerue. "We just called the right plays and we ran hard."
Freshman quarterback Jack Plummer, replacing Sindelar for the second time this year, went 23-41 with two touchdowns, and recorded Purdue's longest rush of the season, in 18 yards.
The return of fifth-year right guard Matt McCann aided in the line-of-scrimmage battle, opening up more opportunities for both Doerue and Plummer to work.
In Moore's absence, junior receiver Jackson Anthrop, who was expected to take reps at running back, had seven receptions for 66 yards. Freshman wide receiver David Bell, returning from a shoulder injury suffered in last week's game, had eight receptions for 114 yards.
The Golden Gophers ended the half with an interception off of Plummer's pass, and a failed field goal attempt to try to stretch the score even further.
Plummer threw two interceptions on the day, the second coming late in the third quarter, both picked off by Minnesota senior linebacker Martin Kamal.
Purdue opened the second half with a six-play, 75-yard drive, capped off by an 8-yard touchdown run by Doerue, his first career touchdown. Doerue had four carries and 38 yards on the drive, making the score 28-17 Minnesota.
The Boilermakers and Golden Gophers each had single field goal on the day, the former being a 21-yarder from junior J.D. Dellinger, the latter a 32-yarder from freshman Micheal Lantz.
With six minutes left in the third, Morgan connected with Bateman for a 47-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the drive, extending the lead to 38-17.
Purdue scored 14 unanswered points in the fourth quarter. Doerue scored his second touchdown of the year late in the fourth quarter, off a 2-yard dive across the goal line.
While the Boilers still trailed by 14, an onside kick recovered by Horvath gave Purdue's offense another chance.
"You heard (it) in the stands," said freshman defensive end George Karlaftis, who finished the game with five tackles and 1.5 sacks. "It was a two- or three-possession game, we said, 'We're in this.'"
The offense capitalized on that chance, completing two big passes to Bell and red shirt freshman wide receiver Amad Anderson. Doerue finished off the drive with his third touchdown of the game, making the score 38-31.
After almost blowing its lead, a controversial pass interference call on third down against junior cornerback Simeon Smiley gave Minnesota all the extra time they needed to close out the game.
"I think we finished the game well," Karlaftis said, "but we gotta play all 60 minutes."
For Brohm, there are plenty of areas that need to improve despite filling many slots with younger players.
"This whole team needs to get better," Brohm said. "There are a lot of deficient things that we feel like we have that needs a lot of work that we need to improve upon. Now, I do think there is good, young nucleus. We need more."
Purdue played nine different players in the offensive line trying to make things work. The third-year Purdue coach said that was a sign that that team was not quite where it needs to be to play consistently on offense.
"We've got to fight to overachieve, we gotta stick together and now we have go play and let it loose," he said.
As noted earlier, Minnesota's quarterback had a big day for efficiency and yardage.
"I'm very disappointed in our pass defense and I have been for a while," he said. "That's not a passing team (Minnesota) and we gave up way too many yards ... we knew exactly what they were doing to do and they didn't really do anything different. So, that's the disappointing part. We got a lot of work to do there, we are not where we need to be .. it was a very poor performance."
• Purdue will return to action at noon, Oct. 5 at Penn State.