Penn State Stumbles on the Road Again, Loses to Minnesota

Story posted November 9, 2013 in Sports, CommRadio by Aaron Carr

The Minnesota Golden Gophers (8-2, 4-2 Big Ten) defeated the Penn State Nittany Lions (5-4, 2-3 Big Ten) 24-10 to claim the Governor’s Victory Bell Trophy as the Lions continued their struggles on the road.

While Penn State boasts a spotless 4-0 record at home this season, the team drops to 0-3 in true road games after losing to Minnesota at TCF Bank Stadium.

"We played as hard as we could today and at the end of the day, that is what really matters,” said Minnesota coach Jerry Kill, who observed the game from the press box due to his continuing rehab from epilepsy. “Everybody is doing their part for the team; we have an unselfish group of players.”

The Penn State offense didn’t do much to help turn around the road woes and was seemingly doomed from the start as junior running back Bill Belton fumbled the ball away on the game’s opening play.

Belton, who topped 200 yards on the ground last week against Illinois, was held to just 47 yards on seven carries and sat for the majority of the game after fumbling the ball on the opening play.

Following the fumble recovery by sophomore defensive back Eric Murray, Minnesota place kicker Chris Hawthorne drilled a 45-yard field goal to give the Gophers an early 3-0 lead.

The senior kicker continued his hot start to the season as he is now 11-for-14 on field goal tries this year.

Following the Minnesota field goal, Belton took his first handoff following the fumble for a 13-yard gain before the Penn State offense fizzled out and was forced to punt.

The ensuing drive would be a textbook Gophers march to the end zone as the team drove 96 yards on 15 plays while eating up 8:10 minutes of clock.

Minnesota quarterback Philip Nelson was the leading force on the drive, completing a ten-yard pass to junior wide receiver Isaac Fruechte for a first down on 3rd and 8 and hitting freshman WR Drew Wolitarsky for 19 yard gain and a first down on another 3rd and 8 later in the drive.

“This is a team victory regardless of the quarterback, but there's no question that Philip has played well,” Kill said. “He has thrown the ball well and converted big plays when we needed them. I'm very proud of Philip and his performance."

After the Penn State defense forced the Gophers into a rare 4th down situation, Nelson connected with freshman tight end Maxx Williams on a 24-yard pass to set up the Minnesota offense inside the Penn State five yard line.

Junior running back David Cobb would score from one yard out to give the Gophers a 10-0 first quarter lead.

Despite the touchdown run, the Penn State defense held Cobb in check during the first half as the junior tailback totaled 32 yards on 13 first-half carries.

Following the rushing touchdown by Minnesota, Penn State displayed its own version of the ground and pound offense as senior running back Zach Zwinak replaced Belton and lead the offense down the field.

After running for 57 yards on four carries, including a 34-yarder, Zwinak ran one in from the Minnesota six yard line to make the score 10-7.

Zwinak totaled 63 yards on five carries along with the touchdown on the scoring drive for the Lions that took just a bit over two minutes to execute.

After the way Zwinak moved the chains on the Lions’ initial scoring drive, coach Bill O’Brien gave the bruising back the bulk of the carries the rest of the way as Zwinak finished with 150 yards on 26 carries.

The 150-yard effort was the eighth career 100-yard rushing performance for the senior ball carrier out of Frederick, MD.

“[Zwinak] ran the ball hard and I thought he did a nice job,” O’Brien said. “He’s a tough kid and he ran the ball well.”

After Penn State’s quick scoring drive, the Gophers responded by executing another long scoring drive of their own that ate up almost seven minutes of game clock.

Nelson once again flashed spots of brilliance on the drive as he completed a 27-yard pass to senior WR Derrick Engel on 3rd and 9 that put the ball on the Penn State 31 yard line.

The Penn State defense held firm on the next series as it forced Minnesota into another fourth down situation. The result however was the same as the 4th down earlier in the contest as Nelson hit freshman receiver Donovahn Jones for an 11-yard gain to make the Gophers 2-for-2 on 4th down conversions.

Nelson would scramble outside the pocket and run it in from six yards out to give Minnesota a 17-7 advantage.

A Sam Ficken field goal cut the Minnesota lead to seven but the Gophers, lead by who else but Nelson, went on one final scoring march to close out the first half.

After converting on 3rd down and 7 following a 26 yard screen pass to Cobb, Nelson hit Williams for a 24-yard touchdown in the corner of the end zone on 3rd and 10 to push Minnesota’s first half lead to 24-10.

Nelson was a stellar 7-of-8 for 142 yards when passing on 3rd and 4th down in the first half and Minnesota as a team converted 7-of-10 third down attempts, while spending over 19 minutes on offense.

“Our coaches are putting us into really good positions on fourth down and it is situations like this that we work on in fall camp,” Nelson said. “We’ve seen a lot of different situations and our coaches have done a great job of making the right play call at the right time.”

After electing to kick off to begin the game, Minnesota received the opening second half kickoff and nearly added another touchdown as Cobb sprinted down the sidelines for 39-yards before Penn State defensive back Ryan Keiser made a touchdown-saving tackle.

The 39-yard gain gave Cobb over 1,000 all-purpose yards on the season, becoming the first Gopher to achieve that milestone since 2006.

Fast forwarding to the fourth quarter, it was Penn State’s turn to make some offensive history as junior receiver Allen Robinson hauled in a 12-yard pass from quarterback Christian Hackenberg to set the program’s all-time single-season receiving yards record previously set in 1995 by Bobby Engram.

Robinson finished the day with seven catches for 63 yards, giving him 1,106 yards on the season, breaking Engram’s previous record of 1,084.

“Records are great but we could care less about records,” O’Brien said. “We weren’t able to get him the ball enough today which is disappointing. We got three games left and we need to continue to find ways to get him the ball.”

The record-breaking catch by Robinson was the only offensive highlight for the Lions in the second half as the Penn State offense failed to convert on a pair of 4th down conversions in Minnesota territory that ended promising drives.

On Penn State’s final drive of the game, with the Lions offense making it all the way to Minnesota’s one-yard line, Hackenberg fumbled the snap and the Gophers recovered the ball on their own two-yard line to effectively end the game.

The Penn State QB finished the day 14-of-25 for 163 yards without throwing for a touchdown or an interception.

Minnesota will look to keep its four-game win streak going when it hosts No. 24 Wisconsin on Nov. 24th. Penn State will try and rebound against a struggling Purdue team when the Lions host the Boilermakers next Saturday.

“We’re going to make sure we do everything we can as a coaching staff to help these seniors go out as winners because this senior class means a lot to me,” O’Brien said.

Aaron Carr is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email adc5230@psu.edu.