The First Battle of the Unbeaten: Penn State Battles the Gophers

Penn State battles the Gophers this Saturday in the first matchup of the unbeaten. Both Big Ten teams are 8-0 to start the season.
EAST LANSING, MI - OCTOBER 26: Running back Elijah Collins #24 of the Michigan State Spartans is tackled by linebacker Micah Parsons #11 of the Penn State Nittany Lions with linebacker Jan Johnson #36 during the first half at Spartan Stadium on October 26, 2019 in East Lansing, Michigan. Penn State defeated Michigan State 28-7. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

There are two games this weekend that will feature a matchup between 8-0 teams. The first, Penn State vs. Minnesota. The second, Alabama vs. LSU. The last time the Nittany Lions played Minnesota Saquon Barkley sealed the deal with a touchdown in overtime. Hopefully, Penn State won’t need overtime this weekend. The Nittany Lions are ranked No. 4 in the first College Football Playoff ranking, they cannot afford a blunder at Minnesota. Penn State battles the Gophers tomorrow. Will they be able to keep their playoff hopes alive for another week?

Penn State Battles the Gophers

In 2016, the last time Penn State faced Minnesota, the Nittany Lions were coming off of a lackluster start to the season. The win over the Gophers started a nine-game win streak, including the Big Ten Championship victory over Wisconsin. Penn State leads the all-time series 9-5. The Nittany Lions lost to the Gophers their last venture to Minneapolis in 2013, 24-10. 2013 was a much different time for Penn State football. It was in the direct aftermath of the sanctions brought down by the NCAA. This Penn State team is different, it is ready, it has the scholarships and the depth to compete with anyone in the country. So, let’s see the matchups as Penn State battles the Gophers on Saturday.

Penn State Offense vs. Minnesota Defense

The Golden Gophers have some talented players. On defense, their most talented is arguably safety Antoine Winfield Jr.. Winfield Jr. has 46 total tackles, five interceptions, and two sacks on the season. He also had the game-winning interception in overtime against Fresno State to seal the victory for the Gophers 38-35. Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford will have to mindful of where Winfield Jr. is on the field on Saturday. Clifford enters the matchup with the Gophers with 20 touchdown passes on the season. In addition, he has three rushing scores as well. The sophomore quarterback’s favorite target, KJ Hamler, enters Saturday with eight touchdowns this season and 637 yards from scrimmage.

It will undoubtedly be cold in Minnesota on Saturday, so Clifford will have to spread the ball around early and often against a Gopher defense that allows only 20 points per game. James Franklin stated that freshman running back Noah Cain is likely healthy for the clash with the Gophers as well. Look for him to have a big game after an injury kept him out of the majority of the game against Michigan State two weeks ago.

Minnesota Offense vs. Penn State Defense

The Gophers are averaging 38.4 points per game throughout the first eight games of the season. The Nittany Lion defense, however, is allowing just over nine points per game to their opponents on average. Further, the Gophers’ conference wins where they scored over 30 points were against Illinois, Maryland, Purdue, Rutgers, Nebraska. None of those teams boast a winning record. Minnesota will be facing a top ten defense against Penn State this Saturday, something that they have not seen yet this season. Quarterback Tanner Morgan has a 65.3 completion percentage. In addition, he has 18 touchdowns and four interceptions through eight games. Morgan’s favorite target is Tyler Johnson. The senior receiver has seven touchdowns and averages 14.6 yards per catch.

The Penn State secondary will have to limit his yards after the catch on Saturday. Franklin stated this week that senior cornerback John Reid should also be good to go this weekend after an injury against Michigan State. Reid has 26 total tackles, two interceptions, and one returned for a touchdown this season. His experience helps lead a young, talented, Penn State secondary. The Nittany Lions will be without defensive tackle Antonio Shelton this weekend. Shelton is suspended for one game after his unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Michigan State. The good thing? Penn State’s defensive line depth. There shouldn’t be much production fall-off without Shelton.

What to Expect

It likely won’t be an easy game for Penn State. The Nittany Lions will have to start fast to keep the Gophers at bay. With key players coming back from injury and having a bye week to help that along, expect much of the same from Franklin’s squad. Also, look for a special teams touchdown from Penn State. Minnesota will get their chances against a bend not break Nittany Lion defense. It may not be comfortable, but Penn State battles the Gophers to a win on Saturday.

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