David Cobb rushed for 194 yards and a touchdown and Ryan Santoso kicked a 52-yard field goal with 4:59 left to cap Minnesota's comeback on Saturday, giving the Gophers a 39-38 victory over Purdue and their first 3-0 start in Big Ten play since 1990.
Cedric Thompson had two interceptions for Minnesota (6-1, 3-0), including a diving pickoff of Austin Appleby with 2:28 remaining to seal it. This was the first time in 23 games under coach Jerry Kill that the Gophers rallied from a halftime deficit to win.
Appleby threw three first-half touchdown passes for the Boilermakers (3-5, 1-3), but he was only 4 for 10 for 18 yards in the second half. Raheem Mostert rushed for 115 yards on five carries and Akeem Hunt added 98 yards on 17 attempts, but Purdue's bid to spoil the 100th homecoming at Minnesota fell excruciatingly short.
Mitch Leidner tallied two scores and 165 yards on 9-for-18 passing and had 84 yards and a touchdown on 13 rushes. Santoso missed an extra point pushed back by penalty in the second quarter, and his run up the middle on a fake attempt in the third quarter was stuffed at the goal line.
With the West Division wide open, the Gophers needed this game and next week's at Illinois to stay relevant in the race facing a daunting November schedule: Iowa and Ohio State followed by trips to Nebraska and Wisconsin.
The Gophers won 24-17 in a grind-it-out game last week against Northwestern, but this one started with a flourish. On the first play from scrimmage, Appleby's pass sailed straight into Cedric Thompson's chest. The senior safety returned it to the 2, and Cobb carried the ball in on the next snap with just 20 seconds elapsed on the clock for the fastest score by Minnesota in four seasons under Kill.
Three plays later, Appleby was picked off again, a ball that Damien Wilson caught for a 42-yard touchdown return. Theiren Cockran was offside, though, and the score was wiped out. Then the Boilermakers shifted the tone of the entire game right after the lucky break. Appleby found Danny Anthrop on a bubble screen he turned into an untouched sprint for 55 yards to tie the game.
The action never stopped, either.
For all the strides the Gophers have made under defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys, they were exploited often by Purdue's speed. The four touchdown drives by the Boilermakers in the first half covered an average of 74 yards. Gabe Holmes and DeAngelo Yancey caught passes for scores, and Mostert put Purdue in front for the first time at 21-20 with a 42-yard burst.
Then Mostert, who was overtaken by Akeem Hunt as the featured runner last month after fumbling in a game against Southern Illinois, tore through the Minnesota front again midway through the third quarter. His 69-yard gain set up a touchdown run by Appleby that stretch the lead to 38-29, another remarkable response by a Boilermakers team that went 1-11 in coach Darrell Hazell's first season and lost at home 38-17 to Central Michigan earlier this year.
Since Appleby took over for fellow sophomore Danny Etling, though, the offense has been significantly better in leading Hazell to his first Big Ten win at Illinois and giving Michigan State a scare last week. Purdue finally had to punt after halftime, and after a three-and-out Leidner zipped a crisp pass to K.J. Maye on a corner route for a 37-yard completion that Maye punctuated with a somersault into the end zone to bring the Gophers back within two points.
That possession was kept alive by an overturned fumble call on Leidner, giving the Gophers a .333 average on replay reviews.
In the second quarter, Cobb lost a fumble that appeared to occur after his arm hit the ground, but the officials disagreed. Then Appleby's pass three plays later to Anthrop was ruled incomplete, though replays suggested a catch and a fumble. The call stood, and Purdue kicked a short field goal for a 24-20 lead.
Cobb had huge holes to run through in the first half, but the only way Minnesota was going to keep up was with some down-field completions from Leidner, and he came through right after halftime. He hit Donovahn Jones for 42 yards to set up his own touchdown run to cut the deficit to 31-26 and Isaac Fruechte for 45 yards to set up a short kick by Santoso after that drive stalled at the 3.