WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Best known for producing top-notch running backs, No. 24 Minnesota is in the midst of the nation's best turnaround season because of an opportunistic defense.
The Golden Gophers, who came in leading the nation in turnover margin, forced four more in a 17-6 win over Purdue on Saturday. It was the third time in the past five games Minnesota has held an opponent to single-digit points. The Golden Gophers were 1-11 last season with one of the worst defenses in the country.
"It's really different, especially from last year," said Minnesota safety Kyle Theret, who intercepted a pass. "We weren't even close to shutting down people to six points, no touchdowns. We've done that a couple times this year, and we think we can play better."
It's hard to see how. Purdue passed for 109 yards in its homecoming game, the lowest total in coach Joe Tiller's 12 years with the program. The Gophers (7-1, 3-1 Big Ten) allowed just 226 total yards and had five sacks.
"I have tremendous confidence in our defense," Minnesota coach Tim Brewster said. "It was an outstanding performance today. We did things good defenses have to do to be successful."
Purdue quarterback Curtis Painter hurt his throwing shoulder in the first quarter and left the game. He returned in the second quarter, but didn't play in the second half. Tiller called it a slight-to-moderate separation and expects Painter to play next week.
Justin Siller replaced Painter and made some plays, but couldn't consistently move the Boliermakers (2-6, 0-4). Siller was a running back until a week ago, when former backup Joey Elliott was knocked out for the season with a separated shoulder.
The Boilermakers play Michigan next week.
"I will admit we better have our No. 1 quarterback back," Tiller said. "We're not efficient enough and proficient enough offensively to expect a whole lot out of our offense with our No. 3 quarterback who was a running back until last week."
Kory Sheets led Purdue with 73 yards rushing and became the third Boilermakers player to run for more than 3,000 yards in a career. That wasn't enough to prevent Purdue's 18th straight loss to a ranked opponent, including four this season. The Boilermakers (2-6, 0-4) have lost five straight and are in danger of missing a bowl game in Tiller's final season.
Minnesota's offense sputtered at times, but did enough to get the win. Adam Weber passed for 212 yards and a touchdown and ran for 60 yards and another score. Brandon Green caught five passes for 100 yards.
Minnesota struck on the game's first possession. Weber completed a 71-yard pass to Green on a third-and-6 to set up a first-and-goal at the 5. Weber scored on a 4-yard run 1:49 into the game.
On Purdue's first series, Painter was hit from the blind side and ran off the field with his right arm hanging. The Boilermakers managed a 31-yard field goal by Carson Wiggs.
Wiggs made another field goal, a 40-yarder, to cut Minnesota's lead to 7-6 late in the first quarter.
Painter returned midway through the second quarter, but threw an interception to Marcus Sherels shortly thereafter. That turnover led to a 41-yard field goal by Minnesota's Joel Monroe.
Purdue was driving late in the first half when Painter fumbled and Minnesota's Garrett Brown recovered at the Gophers' 46.
Siller started the second half at quarterback, and the redshirt freshman led the Boilermakers inside the Minnesota 20 before Tremaine Brock leveled Sheets and forced a fumble that Nate Triplett recovered at the Minnesota 18.
Weber broke loose for 39 yards on a keeper in the fourth quarter and on the next play he found tight end Jack Simmons for a 9-yard touchdown pass to make it 17-6 with 6:22 to play.
"There was a lot of frustration on the sidelines for the offense, but we knew just to keep fighting, and that we would come out on top," Weber said.
Minnesota has lost only to Ohio State and doesn't play Penn State. The players are starting to hear people talk about contending for the conference title.
"People try to talk about it, but we really just want to keep it to one game at a time," Theret said. "That's what's been our mind-set all year, and we don't want to change it. We don't want to get ahead of ourselves."
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