INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota and Purdue have something unfortunate in common: They are both in desperate need of a win with their seasons on the brink of disaster.
They will face each other Saturday, with the loser in danger of a tailspin.
Purdue (2-2, 0-0 Big Ten) played a big-time opponent last week for the first time this season and was demolished 38-10 at home by Notre Dame. Minnesota (1-4, 0-1) lost to FCS team North Dakota State two weeks ago, then was crushed 58-0 at Michigan last Saturday.
Minnesota coach Jerry Kill isn’t as concerned with Purdue as he is about dealing with his locker room.
“Right now, it wouldn’t matter who we were playing,” he said. “Right now, we’ve got to worry about our kids mentally thinking that we’ve got to do what we need to do to get better. I think that is the biggest challenge we’ve got.”
Defensive tackle Brandon Kirksey said the Gophers have to work harder.
“Coach Kill is definitely looking for guys who are willing to play who are being consistent who are doing their job on the field every play,” he said. “We’ve got guys that maybe take plays off, for various reasons, who knows, but he’s definitely looking for some guys to step up.”
Both teams have issues at quarterback.
Minnesota’s regular starter, MarQueis Gray, didn’t play last week due to a toe injury. Kill said freshman Max Shortell will be the starter until Gray is “completely healthy.”
Gray, the Big Ten’s No. 6 rusher with 88 yards per game, has been one of the few bright spots for the Minnesota. Purdue coach Danny Hope, who is preparing to defend against both quarterbacks, said Gray is a special athlete.
“His athleticism is so superior to most other athletes on the team that it gives the players some confidence and some hope that he can always make a big play to either get them back in a game, keep them in a game or win a game,” Hope said.
Even with Gray, Minnesota’s offense ranks 104th out of 120 FBS teams in yards per game.
Purdue hasn’t fared much better while rotating Caleb TerBush and Robert Marve at quarterback.
TerBush has started every game, but Marve relieved him in the second quarter against Notre Dame and played most of the rest of the way. Neither was effective, and Hope hasn’t announced his starter for Saturday’s game.
“We anticipate and plan on playing both of those guys as long as they’re healthy and as long as they are ready,” Hope said. “I can’t tell you exactly what their rhythm will be or how the rotation will go, but we definitely want to play both of them in the first half.”
Hope made it clear that the job is up for grabs.
“We’re always going to give the players on our team an opportunity to compete,” he said. “I think that’s the American way.”
Hope said after the Notre Dame game that TerBush had a better command of the offense, and Marve played outside the system at times when he didn’t need to. On his Twitter account, Marve wrote: “Don’t understand how I was not playing in the system! It was rough from the get go, don’t understand how that was on me.”
Hope said he understood Marve’s concern and the only negative issue was the response by the fans and the media. And he said he wants Marve to play outside the system at times.
“He’s a wild stallion in his own rights, and that’s one of the things I really like about Robert Marve,” he said. “If he didn’t throw so well we’d make him an outside linebacker or safety because he’s a tough guy.”
Ideally, Hope said Marve would play within the system most of the time.
“There’s some throws that Robert Marve can make that I haven’t been around any other quarterbacks that could,” he said. “He has a phenomenal arm. He’s an extremely talented passer. But I would like to be able to run predominantly the same offense regardless of which quarterback is in the huddle.”
Minnesota might not offer much resistance, regardless of who Purdue plays at quarterback, ranking 101st in total defense.
Kill said he still believes the Gophers can have a respectable season.
“I can’t wave a magical wand and make everything perfect,” he said. “I call it blind faith. Sooner or later, somebody’s got to have blind faith. They’ve got to believe in somebody.”