Jack Plummer throw

(LEADER PHOTO/LISA KESSLER)

Purdue quarterback Jack Plummer throwing out to a receiver with a Minnesota defender bearing down on him.

WEST LAFAYETTE — Purdue lost its two best offensive players on the same play in the first quarter Saturday.

Things got worse for awhile, but the Boilermakers nearly made a rally for the ages before falling to Minnesota 38-31 at Ross-Ade Stadium in both team’s Big Ten Conference opener.

Purdue’s offense took a major hit on a single play in the second quarter. Fifth-year quarterback Elijah Sindelar, who missed the previous game with a concussion, returned but was sacked and suffered a shoulder injury. On that same play, Rondale Moore suffered an apparent leg injury and left the game on a cart.

An already young team got a little younger with Sindelar and Moore’s absence. The Golden Gophers (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) built a 28-10 halftime lead and led 38-17 midway through the fourth quarter. Purdue (1-3, 0-1) started to make some noise late in the fourth quarter.

Purdue freshman running back King Doerue rushed for a 2-yard touchdown with six minutes remaining and J.D. Dellinger’s extra point kick cut the deficit to 38-24. That capped a 99-yard scoring drive for the Boilermakers.

Zander Horvath recovered Dellinger’s ensuing onside kick with 5:55 remaining in the game. The Boilermakers capitalized with an 8-play drive that culminated with quarterback Jack Plummer’s 8-yard touchdown pass to Doerue, cutting the deficit to one score, 38-31 with four minutes remaining.

Dellinger put the ensuing kickoff through the end zone for a touchback, putting the onus on Purdue’s defense to make a stop. But two penalties — a pass interference and one for lining up in the neutral zone — allowed Minnesota to run the clock out for the win.

In the loss, Purdue had several freshmen step up to make big contributions.

“We have some deficiencies we need to get better at,” Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm said. “We’re not near where we need to be. I do think we have some raw talent. Some have a great, bright future and I think you’ve seen some emerge a little bit and you’ll probably start to see more.”

Doerue made his first career start and scored three touchdowns, rushing for 94 yards on 20 carries and catching four passes for 32 yards.

“I thought King played outstanding and ran hard, making some plays for us and competing,” Brohm said.

Plummer completed 23 of 41 passes for 245 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in relief of Sindelar.

“He competed and played hard,” Brohm said “He’s still young. I’d like to see him spin it with some conviction. Now, I see a competitor. I see a guy that wants to play, a guy that studies, works hard, wants to work hard and a guy that will play to the end. There are some things to build on.”

True freshman wide receiver David Bell caught eight passes for 114 yards, the first 100-yard game of his young career; and classmate George Karlaftis had 1 ½ sacks, becoming the first true freshman to have three sacks in a season since Shaun Phillips and Craig Terrill in 2000.

Minnesota scored a touchdown on the opening possession of the game, but Purdue cut into the lead with Dellinger’s 21-yard field goal with 4:33 remaining in the first quarter. But the Gophers answered two plays later with Morgan throwing a 70-yard touchdown pass to Chris Autman-Bell on a slant.

Sindelar and Moore were hurt on Purdue’s next possession, but the Boilermakers offense answered by finishing that drive with a touchdown. Plummer, who started Purdue’s previous game, threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Horvath.

Purdue opened the second half with a 75-yard scoring drive, culminating Doerue’s 8-yard rushing touchdown, the first score of his collegiate career. Doerue’s touchdown cut into Minnesota’s 28-17 lead.

Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan had a career day, throwing for 396 yards and four touchdowns, completing 21 of 22 passes. He began the game completing his first 12 passes of the game and didn’t throw an incompletion until late in the second quarter. Rashod Bateman caught six catches for 177 yards and two touchdowns.

Ben Holt had nine tackles to lead Purdue’s defense.

The Boilermakers play at Penn State next Saturday, kicking off at noon ET.