Late Interception Helps Minnesota Hang on for Tight Win Over Purdue

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Josh Aune’s interception with 44 seconds left at the Minnesota 13-yard line after a disputed penalty on Purdue gave the beleaguered Gophers defense a big lift and preserved a 34-31 victory over the Boilermakers on Friday night.

Minnesota Golden Gophers linebacker Josh Aune (29) celebrates with defensive back Tyler Nubin (27) after intercepting a pass in the fourth quarter against the Purdue Boilermakers at TCF Bank Stadium.

Jack Plummer completed 35 of 42 passes for 367 yards and three scores in his first start of the season for Purdue, which took the ball with 2:01 left at its 39.

The Boilermakers, boosted by a career-high 15 receptions for 116 yards from Rondale Moore in his long-awaited return, moved in position for what they believed was a 19-yard touchdown catch by tight end Payne Durham in the final minute. Durham was flagged for offensive pass interference, angering the Purdue sideline after replays revealed scant evidence of a foul.

“I think you know what I think. I didn’t like it a lot. I can’t really comment on it. It’s part of the game,” Boilermakers coach Jeff Brohm said. “We’ve got to move forward.”

As Durham approached the goal line on his corner route, he extended his arm against the chest of cornerback Phillip Howard, whose pursuit did not appear to be significantly altered by the contact.

“Refs made a call, but we still had to finish the game,” Howard said.

Aune picked Plummer off on the next play.

“It was really who was going to turn the ball over first. It was so hard to get a takeaway,” said Gophers coach P.J. Fleck, whose defense forced just one punt, in the first quarter.

Mohamed Ibrahim, the FBS leader in rushing yards per game, scored his third touchdown of the game—and 13th of the season—early in the fourth quarter to give Minnesota a 34-24 lead before a missed extra point.

Purdue used a fourth-and-1 conversion on a drive capped by Durham’s scoring reception that cut the lead to three points with 8:31 left. The Boilermakers got the ball back quickly after Seth Green, the wildcat quarterback for the Gophers, was taken down for a 3-yard loss on fourth-and-1 from their own 31. But Edward Dellinger, who had a 27-yard field goal blocked in the second quarter, pulled his 33-yarder wide right to keep Minnesota (2-3 Big Ten) in the lead.

David Bell caught eight passes for 104 yards and two touchdowns for the Boilermakers (2-2), who racked up 492 total yards. Moore took the field for the first time since injuring his hamstring against Minnesota on Sept. 28, 2019. Plummer, who started six games last season, seamlessly replaced the injured Aidan O’Connell.

Playing their second straight Friday night home game, a schedule quirk that’s hardly a blip in this strange season, the Gophers were missing 22 players either for injuries or COVID-19 protocols. Offensive line coach Brian Callahan and two other team staff members were also absent, confirmed by Minnesota for positive tests for COVID-19. Ibrahim left in the fourth quarter with an injury, and cornerback Jordan Howden departed with an injury in the third quarter.

Tanner Morgan’s junior year was off to a rough start, but he produced a crisp and commanding performance marked by pinpoint throws on third downs and deep routes to Chris Autman-Bell (129 yards) and Rashod Bateman (59). Morgan finished 15 for 22 for 264 yards and no turnovers.

“He had an edge to him,” Fleck said. “He played gritty.”

Cam Wiley added a touchdown run, Ibrahim notched his sixth straight 100-yard game, and the Gophers had their offense back in 2019 form.

Minnesota’s defense, missing top pass rusher Boye Mafe, played with plenty of energy despite the mismatches on the outside against Bell and Moore. Micah Dew-Treadway came up with the key block, just after a touchdown catch by Moore was overruled by replay review because he didn’t have possession in the corner of the end zone.

“It’s one that’s going to sting, but that’s what losses should do to you,” Brohm said. “I am proud of the fact that we played until the end and showed some fight, showed some want to win. The defense rised up at the very end and gave us some opportunities. But when you miss a field goal, get one blocked, get a touchdown called back, that’s hard to overcome against a good opponent.”