MINNEAPOLIS – – Michael Brown-Stephens was taking off his shoulder pads in the noisy Minnesota locker room last weekend, eager to join in the celebration of a victory at Michigan State when he noticed a phone had passed with fellow receiver Chris Autman-Bell looping over FaceTime.
“No offense to Crab,” Brown-Stephens said, using his injured teammate’s nickname. “I forgot all about him.”
The Gophers also tried to do it on the field.
After Autman-Bell was injured in the 49-7 win over Colorado on Sept. 17 and underwent season-ending surgery on his lower right leg, Minnesota suddenly missed its best passer and a sixth-year leader of a group that has struggled the previous two seasons with consistency and health.
What followed at the Big Ten opener in Lansing gave the Gophers a boost of confidence – if they even needed it.
Tanner Morgan completed passes to 10 different players, with six catches for 73 yards by Brown-Stephens leading the production. Dylan Wright had three receptions for 54 yards and Daniel Jackson had two touchdowns.
“You hate to see things like this happen, but I’ve been asked a lot to step in and bring the guys with me,” Brown-Stephens said. “I feel like going into the week, preparing for the game and preparing everything, everyone just had the feeling of ‘We have to be better. We have to go out there and make up for it.
Morgan went 23 for 26 for 268 yards in the 34-7 win over the Spartans that kept the Gophers (4-0, 1-0) undefeated atop the Western Division and pushed them up the Associated Press standings at the No. 21 for the first time in nearly two years.
The passing performance served as further proof, with offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca back in sync with Morgan and head coach PJ Fleck after two seasons elsewhere, that the Gophers can very well move the ball without relying solely on the star. Mohamed Ibrahim and their conference leader. racing game.
“We have guys that we trust that can go out there and make plays, and they’re showing that to us on a consistent level,” Morgan said. “They’re just going to keep going out there and getting better.”
Even taking into account the level of non-conference competition, the Gophers could hardly play better at this point in the season. They beat their opponents 183-24 and rank near the top of the FBS in several statistical categories as a team. Then there’s Ibrahim, who is second in the nation with 567 rushing yards in a remarkable comeback from a torn left Achilles tendon.
Purdue’s defense will have its hands full Saturday afternoon in Minnesota.
“You have to find a way to make them uncomfortable, find a way to create pressure,” Boilers coach Jeff Brohm said. “You have to find a way to put them in more overtaking situations than they would like. Because if you don’t, they control the game. They’ve been very, very good at doing that.
The Gophers lead the FBS in time of possession averaging 40:33 per game.
“They make you bleed,” Brohm said. “They make you bleed, and if you can’t find a way to bandage it or do something to retaliate, death can be a long one.”
Morgan is in his sixth year, one of Fleck’s first signings and such a mature player that he married this summer. Purdue quarterback Aidan O’Connell is also off-market after a wedding in July and is a sixth-year player who placed near the top of the program’s all-time lists in a rare tune with possible NFL passers Drew Brees, Kyle Orton and Jim Everett.
O’Connell’s status, however, is unclear for Saturday. He was sidelined in last weekend’s 28-26 win over Florida Atlantic with an unspecified injury sustained in the first quarter Sept. 17 in a 32-29 loss at Syracuse. O’Connell finished that match, but Austin Burton took his place afterwards. Brohm said Michael Alaimo would likely take a few shots as well if O’Connell was still on the sidelines.
“Both of these guys worked hard last week and we have to try and use them as best we can,” Brohm said.
Minnesota is one of 21 remaining undefeated teams in the FBS, one of four in the Big Ten, and the only one in the Western Division of the conference. Georgia and Washington are the only others in the country that haven’t trailed at any time this season.
Brohm beat Fleck when they were both Big Ten rookies, a Boilermakers 31-17 win at home in 2017. The Gophers have won the last four meetings, however, and eight of the last nine games in the series overall.
It’s Minnesota’s homecoming game, and fans have been encouraged — depending on their seating section — to wear maroon or gold in hopes of creating a two-tone hue around the stadium bowl. The university dubbed this the ” Delete ” Game.