Late interception helps Minnesota hang on for 34-31 win over Purdue
Minneapolis — The end of this pass-and-catch clinic put on by Purdue and Minnesota boiled down to an alleged push — followed by a game-sealing interception.
As the Boilermakers seethed, the weary Gophers were relieved after a game both teams won't soon forget.
Josh Aune picked off Jack Plummer 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.
"We had every chance to fold. We just never quit," Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck said.
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 with 52 seconds left. 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. The Big Ten declined to comment on the call.
"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 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 took 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.
Tanner Morgan 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. Morgan finished 15 for 22 for 264 yards and no turnovers.
"He had an edge to him," Fleck said.
Cam Wiley and Green added a touchdown runs, 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 against Bell and Moore. Micah Dew-Treadway had the blocked field goal, 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."
Moore did not take questions from reporters but apologized for being a distraction to the team this season after aggravating his hamstring injury during training camp and asking Brohm to keep it private because he believed he'd recover quickly.
"A lot of people created these narratives about myself, about this team. That's never what I intended it to be," Moore said.