After surviving a tense, 12-inning game on the last day of the regular Major League Baseball season season in which the worst team in the majors had to beat one of the best—and did—Nittany Lions fans will actually have a game this Saturday. Penn State (2-2, 1-1 Big Ten) will square off with the Minnesota Golden Gophers (2-3, 0-2 Big Ten) at the Metrodome in Minneapolis on Saturday, with the winner being awarded the vaunted Governors’ Victory Bell.
Ahhh, yet another newly invented rivalry and yet another trophy to go with it. I dug up a picture of the Governor’s Victory Bell (left). Not bad, although in no way could it ever possibly be uglier than the Land Grant Trophy that is awarded to the winner of the annual Penn State – Michigan State contest. Penn State has won it five times to Minnesota’s four. It doesn’t have quite the ring to it (no pun intended) or the history of some of the other annual trophies Minnesota plays for, such as the Little Brown Jug and Paul Bunyan’s Axe, but Jesse Ventura was one governor of Minnesota during the trophy’s history, and that’s gotta be worth something. I mean, how cool is that? But I digress.
What’s in store for Penn State in this game? Well, first of all, I don’t have to remind you folks about the Nittany Lions’ abysmal road performance in recent years. So, that’s the first problem that will have to be overcome. It’s not just a coincidence. In the Big Ten, home field advantage is always a significant boost for the home team. And an indoor field is a noisy place. So the home field advantage will be worth some points for Minnesota.
Bryan Cupito is the Golden Gophers’ returning Senior quarterback. He has good size, at 6’1″ and 205 pounds. Look for him to air it out to Senior receiver Logan Payne (25 receptions, 349 yards, 7 TDs) when Poz, Connor, and Associates shut down the running game. Last year, the Gophers had major running threat Laurence Maroney, who is now playing on Sundays, making headlines with the New England Patriots. Our great defense shut him down, as he was only able to run 16 times for 48 yards of the Gophers’ 113 rushing yards. Junior Amir Pinnix is now the Gophers’ top running back, having run for 477 yards on 75 carries with two touchdowns this season. Our defense will keep him corralled, too. If Minnesota is pinning its hopes on Pinnix this year as they did with Maroney last year, they’ll be very sorry. However, I do think that the wily Cupito will be able to hit Payne for a few big plays against our inexperienced, but improving secondary.
Our offense thus far has left much to be desired, but the one bright, shining star has been Tony Hunt. Establishing the run will be a major key to this game, and it is probable that the Lions will be able to do so. The Gophers rank #98 in run defense. Tony should have a big day. Looking at this statistically, the Gophers are even worse in pass efficiency defense than they are in run defense, ranking #111 in aerial thwartation. (A Turkeyism if there ever was one.) This could be the big breakout chance for Morelli to show us his stuff, but the sloppy reads and the mistakes will have to be curtailed or we’ll go down in flames.
Nevertheless, I keep coming back to the really bad defensive showing of Minnesota thus far. How can their defense still rank #98 overall after beating Temple 62–0? Jeez! (Temple is a unanimous pick for worst team in Division I-A. The Owls could not beat the scout team of the Blessed Sisters of St. Catherine of McCabe even if the nuns were blindfolded. By way of comparison, Temple’s defense is ranked #115. After a bad day with Penn State, Minnesota could wind up right there with them, as Temple plays Kent State at home.)
Between the two schools, the special teams’ performance just about even out. They have a lousy punter, but some good return men. If Kelly gets his rhythm back and the hairline fracture in his hip doesn’t bother him too much, we have an edge. We also have to avoid stupid mistakes on special teams, which are always costly. Hopefully, our guys are maturing as we have completed the first third of the season.
Levi Brown will not play this week, so the question of whether Morelli will have enough pass protection to give him time to hit deep receivers comes to mind. However, I quickly put those thoughts out of my mind when I think about the poor quality of the Minnesota defense.
Last week at the Metrodome, the Gophers allowed #6 Michigan to jump out to a 14–0 lead in the second quarter, and the Wolverines never looked back, eventually winning by a score of 28–14. Michigan’s balanced attack rang up 518 total yards against the Gophers’ sieve of a defense, while holding Minnesota to 323, of which 215 were passing yards. Pinnix did most of the running, with 20 carries for 91 yards, while Payne had 6 receptions for 104 yards and 2 TDs, accounting for all of Minnesota’s scoring. Mike Hart, of the Wolverines, was able to run for 195 yards on 31 carries, including a long scamper of 54 yards. So, that’s the long and short of it.
And now, it’s time for the Official Turkey Poop Prediction. This Turkey is feeling optimistic. Oh, hell, just shoot me and put me on your Thanksgiving table, but I feel a road win coming on. I feel the team coming together. I feel Minnesota’s running game being stifled, but I see some big plays from Cupito to Payne. On the other hand, I am thinking—no, wait, I am praying—that Morelli is getting his act together and can match the long-playmaking capability of Cupito. Lord knows, we haven’t seen a touchdown pass from Morelli since Akron, and we’ve seen far too many interceptions. So, yeah, praying just about covers it. As Paterno says again and again, these kids need to learn how to make plays. I think they can and they will. Penn State 24, Minnesota 21.