Penn State-Minnesota preview: 5 storylines to watch

Story posted October 21, 2022 in CommRadio, Sports by Alex Rocco

After suffering its first loss of the campaign in blowout fashion last week against Michigan, Penn State returns home for the White Out and a huge chance to rebound against Minnesota.

The No. 16 Nittany Lions are set to square off against the unranked Golden Gophers on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

The Gophers are on a two-game losing streak after opening the year on a four-game surge that saw the program ranked No. 21 on Sept. 29.

The weekend matchup marks the 16th contest between the two teams, with Penn State owning a 9-6 advantage in the series.

Here are five storylines to watch during Saturday’s Big Ten battle.

Ciarrocca comes home

In 2020, Penn State hired Kirk Ciarrocca to be its offensive coordinator.

However, Ciarrocca's stint in Happy Valley didn’t go as he or the program had planned, getting dismissed in January 2021.

During the shortened season, the Nittany Lions averaged 29.8 points and 430.3 yards per game en route to a 4-5 finish.

After getting fired, Ciarrocca returned to Minnesota, where he was the program’s OC/quarterbacks coach from 2017-2019.

The Golden Gophers enter the weekend with the Big Ten’s fourth-highest scoring offense behind a 34.5 points-per-game average.

Despite the hot start, their offense has sputtered in the last two games scoring 10 and 14 points against Purdue and Illinois, respectively.

Stop the run

Last week Michigan pounded Penn State 41-17, and it was guided by a potent rushing attack that tallied 418 yards.

Those 418 rushing yards are the most the Nittany Lions surrendered since 1997, and it was the third most allowed in program history.

The blue and white’s defensive line is in for a second straight tough test against the Golden Gophers.

Minnesota running back Mohamed Ibrahim is second in the conference in yards per game and touchdowns, averaging 138.8 and finding the endzone nine times.

Despite missing a game with an ankle injury, Ibrahim has registered 694 yards rushing this campaign, which ranks fourth in the Big Ten.

Injuries and sixth-years

Saturday’s contest has the potential to be the oldest quarterback battle of the season, with Tanner Morgan and Sean Clifford in their sixth year of eligibility.

However, Clifford and Morgan exited last week’s game with injuries, and their status is still questionable.

After the loss against Michigan, Franklin said Clifford was pulled due to a shoulder injury, and while he was seen at practice this week, he didn’t throw any passes during the 20-minute viewing period on Wednesday.

If Clifford is unable to play, it would be freshman phenom Drew Allar who would make his first career start.

Morgan sustained a head injury that landed him in the hospital for observation. Morgan traveled back home with the team, and earlier this week, Fleck said the quarterback was doing “very well.”

If Morgan is unavailable, the Gophers will likely turn to Athan Kaliakmanis. The redshirt freshman struggled in Morgan’s absence last week and completed two of his six pass attempts for 17 yards with two interceptions.

Redshirt junior Cole Kramer could also see action against the Nittany Lions. Kramer is 5 of 8 passing for 41 yards this season.

Offensive woes

As the weather has turned cold, so has the Penn State offense.

The Nittany Lions averaged 38.75 points per game in their four games in September, but the offense has found the endzone just three times in their two October contests.

​​The blue and white registered one first down in the first half a week ago and finished the contest with a time of possession of 18:01.

However, Penn State may have to make the most of its time with the ball as Minnesota leads the Big Ten in time of possession with 34:58.

Minnesota’s defense is amongst the nation’s best in getting its opponents off the field.

Through six games this season, opponents have recorded a 21.9 third-down conversion percentage against the Golden Gophers.

Meanwhile, the Nittany Lions have struggled on third down, converting on just 33.8 percent of its third-down attempts, which ranks 11th in the Big Ten.

Pound the rock

When Penn State’s offense was at its best, it ran the ball effectively, and over the past two weeks, it has gotten away from that formula.

The Nittany Lions' running game went missing last week, and despite tallying 111 yards on the ground, 62 came on one run from Clifford.

Nicholas Singleton had just 19 yards on six carries, while Kaytron Allen had 16 yards on six carries and a touchdown. The offense only recorded three first downs via the run.

The Golden Gophers are middle of the pack when it comes to stopping the run, as they average allowing 104.5 yards per game.

Last week Chase Brown torched the Minnesota defense for 180 yards on 41 carries in the loss.

Alex Rocco is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email