Minnesota Golden Gophers vs. Penn State Nittany Lions
The Records: Penn State (2-2, 0-1 Big Ten); Minnesota (3-0, 0-0 Big Ten).
The Coaches: Penn State: James Franklin, third season, 40-29 overall, 16-14 at Penn State; Minnesota: Tracy Claeys, first full season as a head coach, 5-4 overall.
The Game: Minnesota comes to Happy Valley for the first time since 2009 to begin their Big Ten Conference schedule after going undefeated in non-conference play. The Golden Gophers look to keep possession of the Governor’s Victory Bell, a trophy they’ve held since the two teams last met in 2013.
Penn State’s Big Ten opener last Saturday against Michigan was far from ideal as the Nittany Lions got trounced by the Wolverines, 49-10.
The game against the Golden Gophers will begin Penn State’s three-game home stand against Big Ten foes with Maryland and Ohio State coming in future weeks. As the Nittany Lions look to stay relevant in the Big Ten title picture, the next three games will not only be imperative for their fate but will also serve as a stepping stone to the second half of the season.
The Golden Gophers come into Saturday’s match-up averaging 38 points per game, however, they’ve only scored more than 31 points in a game once this season, a 58-28 drubbing of Indiana State. Saturday’s game marks the first time Minnesota will be away from home this season when the team ventures to Beaver Stadium, a place where Penn State has won eight of nine games dating back to last season.
While the Nittany Lions rank among the worst in the FCS in third down conversion percentage (24.4 percent), the Golden Gophers rank among the national leaders with a 55.8 percent success rate. As a result, third down conversions will be a point of emphasis for a Penn State offense that struggled mightily for 60 minutes last week against the Wolverines.
Aside from the lopsided victory against Indiana State, Minnesota has yet to win by more than a touchdown against teams in the FBS (such was the case against both Oregon State and Colorado State). Penn State is averaging nearly a two-touchdown margin of victory in its pair of victories thus far.
Penn State was significantly outmatched against Michigan last week, however, that won’t be the case against a Minnesota team that joins the Nittany Lions in the top-five as one of the youngest teams in the country. Boding well for Penn State is that this will be the fourth game its young squad will play in front of at least 90,000 fans, whereas the Golden Gophers have yet to experience a game featuring more than 45,000 in attendance.
If Penn State would like to return to its winning ways, the wounded defense of the Nittany Lions must limit the damage Minnesota does on the ground. The Golden Gophers’ rushing attack has accounted for 11 of the 15 touchdowns scored by Minnesota thus far. Dual-threat quarterback Mitch Leidner leads the way for the offense, entering the game with 1,264-yards and 26 touchdowns in his career.
Joining Leidner in leading the run game for Minnesota will be Rodney Smith and Kobe McCray. The duo has amassed seven of the 11 scores on the ground this season.
The Nittany Lions will need a young, inexperienced linebacker unit to limit the damage done by this Minnesota rushing game. Should they manage to do just that, Penn State will find itself back in possession of the Governor’s Victory Bell.
Time: 3:30 p.m. EDT
Location: Beaver Stadium. University Park, PA.
TV/Radio: BTN/Penn State Radio Network
Prugar’s Prediction: Penn State 38-28
Image credit: Maxx Williams