Five Things We Learned: Minnesota
No. 4 Penn State was handed its first loss of the season by No. 17 Minnesota, 31-26, dropping the Nittany Lions’ record to 8-1 and placing them outside of the College Football Playoff. Here are five things we learned from Penn State’s defeat in Minneapolis:
Minnesota is very much a contender
Many fans questioned how seriously to take this 8-0 Minnesota team before kickoff. The Golden Gophers’ previous five Big Ten wins were against weaker opponents, many of which were playing with backup quarterbacks. However, Minnesota dispelled any doubts with a win against a top-four opponent in Penn State.
The Golden Gophers winning the game shouldn’t be a shock to anyone. Minnesota controlled the trenches throughout the game, and its behemoth offensive line neutralized a dominant Penn State defensive unit, which recorded only one sack and only six tackles for loss. The Golden Gophers defense also produced two sacks and three interceptions of its own.
Minnesota now has a firm grip on the Big Ten West. One more win over Wisconsin will place Minnesota the Big Ten championship.
Penn State’s passing game is inconsistent
Penn State ended with more total yards than Minnesota, 518-460. But those numbers don’t tell the story of how much the offensive unit struggled, especially in the red zone producing where it produced two touchdowns on six tries.
Sean Clifford threw three interceptions, a rarity for the sophomore QB, and dropped passes were abundant throughout the game, none more memorable than Justin Shorter dropping a sure touchdown in the end zone. Besides KJ Hamler and Pat Freiermuth, no receivers recorded more than one completion until late in the game. Settling for field goals and failing to convert in the red zone contributed a lot to the loss.
The play-calling is questionable at times
Penn State ran a few plays that were a bit head-scratching. First, Clifford spiked the ball after a first down with under 30 seconds remaining in the first half. Second, Penn State ran a draw on third-and-goal from the 7-yard line, when it could have run a passing play instead while still preserving enough time to kick a field goal should the touchdown attempt have failed. Lastly, a fourth-and-goal call planned for KJ Hamler was busted from the start. The play called for Hamler, a 5-foot-9-inch receiver, to run a corner fade route against a 6-foot-3-inch cornerback. Clifford lofted a pass to the corner of the end zone for Hamler, and the play was unsurprisingly broken up. Penn State will have to clean up this messy play-calling if it wants to avoid further upsets in the future.
Penn State can’t defend the RPO
Minnesota’s run-pass-option offense made it a taxing day for the defensive unit. The secondary played a zone defense highlighted by poor communication, leaving receivers wide open all day long. Quarterback Tanner Morgan consistently targeted Tariq Castro-Fields and the rest of the secondary, finishing the day 18 for 20 with 339 yards and three touchdowns. His main receiver Rashod Bateman torched the secondary as well, finishing with seven receptions for 203 yards and a touchdown. A lackluster pass rush from the defensive line and linebackers didn’t help the secondary out either. Minnesota executed its up-tempo offense very smoothly, and Penn State paid the price.
Despite the loss, Penn State’s playoff hopes are still alive
Penn State’s playoff hopes are on life support, as the loss to Minnesota will drop them out of the top four. However, a road upset over Ohio State later this month would send the Nittany Lions to the Big Ten championship. A rematch victory over Minnesota or a win over Wisconsin in Indianapolis would provide Penn State hope of its very first appearance in the College Football Playoff.
Jordan Hession is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Junior / Broadcast Journalism