MINNEAPOLIS – Rodney Smith ran for 153 yards and three touchdowns and quarterback Mitch Leidner ran for 74 yards and two more scores Saturday as Minnesota defeated Purdue 44-31.
Smith topped the 100-yard mark for the fourth straight game and sixth time this season as Minnesota (7-2, 4-2 in the Big Ten) won its fourth straight. Purdue, on the other hand, again failed to take advantage of a strong first half in stalling mightily in the second half of a second consecutive game. Scoring 28 points in the first half, Purdue managed just three in the second half and rushed for under 30 yards total. Purdue had tied Penn State a week ago at home, 17-17 at the half, only for Penn State to roll to a 62-24 win.
Purdue quarterback David Blough threw four first-half touchdown passes. He ended the day with 391 passing yards, the fifth time he’s passed for at least 300 yards this year. DeAngelo Yancey and Cameron Posey each topped 100 receiving yards with a touchdown for Purdue (3-6, 1-5), which lost its fourth straight.
Trailing 28-23 at the break, Minnesota’s Duke McGhee made a big play to give the Gophers defense a much-needed boost. McGhee made a tumbling interception, stripping the ball from Purude tight end Cole Herdman, on the first drive of the second half. After its offense scored to take the lead, Minnesota forced three straight three-and-outs against a Purdue offense that had rolled up 252 yards in the first half.
Early in the fourth quarter the Gophers turned another turnover into quick points. Minnesota’s Steven Richardson sacked Blough and forced a fumble that linebacker Julian Huff recovered at the Purdue 44. Two completions got the ball inside the 10, and Leidner scampered around left end for a 9-yard touchdown run and a 37-28 lead.
The Boilermakers again were competitive in their third game since head coach Darrell Hazell was fired. But they continue to be plagued by second-half woes, being outscored 21-3 after the break.
Minnesota’s schedule gets tougher, with road games at Nebraska and Wisconsin sandwiched around a visit from Northwestern. Minnesota can still win the Big Ten West if it wins out.
Purdue hosts Northwestern on Saturday afternoon. Minnesota travels to Nebraska for a Saturday night clash with the Cornhuskers.