The “rule of fours” might be broken on Saturday when the Nittany Lions (5-3, 2-2 B1G) travel to the frozen north to take on streaking Minnesota (7-2, 3-2 B1G) in the Gopher Hole in Minneapolis. The famous “rule of fours” is complete, made-up, superstitious bullshit based on the coincidence that during this short-lived rivalry, each team has won four straight games before yielding to the other team for four straight losses. First Penn State won four, then Minnesota won four, and most recently, Penn State won four. The two teams last competed with each other in 2010. What does this tell you about Saturday? Nothing!
As you might have gleaned from the above diatomaceous diatribe, Penn State leads the all-time series 8-4. Notably, however, a significant loss to Minnesota signaled the beginning of The Dark Years (cue cello), and an unexpected PSU win over Minnesota likewise signaled the end of those doldrums (cue the Debussyesque strings and woodwinds).
Could a “rule of fours” loss here portend the start of Dark Years II (solitary, mournful cello)? (I’m amusing myself here — this “rule of fours” stuff is whack.)
One other four-related thing: Minnesota has not won four straight Big Ten games since 1973. How’s that for an incentive? They’ll be loaded for bear (ok, Lion) on their home turf, and that’s no bull! (Cue Bizet’s March of the Toreadors from Carmen).
Musical accompaniment aside, Minnesota is on a roll, having won its past three Big Ten games after dropping two to Iowa and Michigan. Convincing wins over Northwestern and Nebraska, along with a fortuitous shoot-out win over Indiana put them on an emotional high coming into this game. Meanwhile, Penn State struggled to defeat lowly Illinois with an overtime comeback win that bolstered their “we can” confidence, which had been shaken by the prior blowout loss to Ohio State, who should be thrown out of the Big Ten for being too good.
Minny hoo hoo is a running team. See Gophers run. Run run run. Like Harold Stassen. They rank 19th overall in rushing yards, piling up 221 yards per game. Halfbacks aside (when’s the last time someone referred to a halfback?), their two quarterbacks, sophomore Philip Nelson and freshman Mitch Leidner have conspired to produce over 700 yards on the ground this season. Their running back, feature back, scatback, tailback, (i.e., halfback), junior speedster David Cobb, has run for 803 yards on 148 carries this season, for an average of 5.4 ypc. The PSU front seven will need to be on top of their game to deal with the running Gophers. They can be stopped, as indeed Iowa showed us in their 23-7 victory over the Golden Ones in the battle for Paul Bunyan’s corn-fed pig. The Hawkeyes held this vaunted running offense to 30 yards rushing (fanfare) and 165 yards total, I might add.
So, load up on the run, you say, à la Michigan? Not so fast! Although Minnesoooda is not a passing team by nature, Nelson can throw the ball, and so can Leidner. Nelson has thrown 114 times, completing 64, for 942 yards, 8 TDs, and 4 INTS, while Leidner is 29-49 for 366 with 1 TD and 1 INT. So, unlike Harold Stassen, who never passed (a chance to run for office), the Gophers have gone to the aerial attack about 18 times per game on the average. Can they make the pass a reasonable threat if Penn State sells out on the run? We’ll see!
Philip Nelson has had a troublesome hamstring injury that caused him to yield time to Leidner while it healed. Since regaining the starting job, the Gophers have become better passers. In the last three games, they’ve averaged 202 yards through the air. “A lot of teams do a good job of stuffing the run in the Big Ten,” said Nelson. “So I think our balanced offense is helping us to continue to help us grow as an offense.”
Balanced? Wellllll, in a manner of speaking, they’re getting there. Other teams have beaten Penn State this year by spreading the field. A balanced attack and a dual-threat quarterback spell troubles for the overworked, understaffed Nittany Lion defense.
So, Minnesota will try to control the ball and wear out the thin, semi-competent PSU defense, while Penn State runs Bill Belton at them in return. Belton is coming off his amazing 200+ yard effort against Illinois, the first 200 yard performance by a PSU running back since Larry Johnson, Jr. provided a small glimmer of light during the Dark Years (cello). Minnesota’s rush defense is more competent than Illinois and Indiana, but still ranked sixth in the B1G. So, there should be some opportunities. The Penn State passing game has a good chance to succeed against a pass defense ranked ninth in the Big Ten. We here at the Turkey hope that the conference’s leading passer, Christian Hackenberg, can spread the ball around a bit more than he has been doing. Surely, Minny will try to put the clamps on our future NFL Hall of Famer, Allen Robinson.
If it comes down to special teams, and this might be one of those close ones that does, Penn State is in deep gopher poo. They got lucky last week when the V’Angeroo didn’t show up for duty; they’re liable to be less lucky this week. Junior Gopher Marcus Jones is a competent kick and punt returner. Against a sloppy coverage unit, this could spell trouble. The Minnesota kicking game is solid, with senior place-kicker Chris Hawthorne having gone 11-14 on the year. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Sam Ficken’s kickin’ has been lackin’, and I don’t even want to mention Alex Butterworth’s punting again. Jesse Della Valle is an a-ight returner, but he is hampered by a less than cohesive return unit.
This figures to be a game of give and take, of love and lust, of crime and passion, of cellos and flutes. I expect some sloppiness on both sides. If Penn State can curb its turnoveritis and can continue its third down conversion improvements, there’s hope.
Distinguished Alumnus of the Week: Harold Stassen
Those of you who are over 40 might actually remember former Minnesota governor and University of Minnesota alumnus Harold Stassen, who died in 2001 at the ripe old age of 93. Although Stassen held many important jobs in the military, political, and academic arenas, he was best remembered for his penchant for running for the Republican presidential nomination. Stassen was a liberal politician, back when the GOP actually had a liberal wing.
Stassen ran for the presidential nomination 12 times between 1944 and 2000. He also ran for Governor of Minnesota four times (winning three), Governor of Pennsylvania twice, U.S. Senate twice, Mayor of Philadelphia once, and U.S. Representative once.
Jobs Stassen actually held included serving on the staff of Admiral William F. “Bull” Halsey in the Pacific Theater in World War II after having served as Governor of Minnesota from 1939-1943. After the war, Stassen became President of the University of Pennsylvania until he was appointed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to the post of Director of the United States Foreign Operations Administration. At the University of Pennsylvania, he tried to increase the popularity of the Quakers’ football team, which was met with disfavor. (How many people outside of Pennsylvania confuse Penn State and University of Pennsylvania?) How did Stassen get to Pennsylvania? No one knows?
When Stassen died at the age of 93 in Bloomington, Minnesota, he was the oldest living former governor of a U.S. state.
Run wild, run free, run the weather.
It’ll be a balmy, springlike day in Minneapolis (cue Spring Song by Mendelsohn), with a high of 45°F and a low of 27°F. The AccuWeather RealFeel® will be 35° because the wind will be blowing around the fractured clouds on a partly cloudy day. Winds from the west at a steady 15 mph with gusts to 27 might require some adjustments by passers and kickers. The field might be a little on the damp side as some rain mixed with snow is expected Friday afternoon and evening.
I haven’t really said anything here, so why start now?
Yeah, it’s time for the Official Turkey Poop Prognostication, that for which you’ve waded through all the bullshit above (or not). (Rimshot.) The Turkey here has been doing about as well with his predictions of late as a snowball has been doing in Mauna Loa. (Cymbal crash.) Thus far this season, they’ve been making turkeyburgers out of this foul old fowl — I’m now 6-2 straight up, 4-4 against the spread, and 5-3 on the over/under. Goes to show you not to rely on me for your gambling advice. (Double kick bass kick.)
The current line on this game favors the Stassenesque Gophers by 2.5 points, with an over/under of 47.5, suggesting a home team win like around 25-22 or thereabouts. Very little money is being wagered on this game. The interest level is about on par with my interest in hearing Obama defend his broken ACA for the umpteenth time. At the beginning of the year, I looked at this as a pretty sure road win. Now, I’m confused. I can see it going either way. Both teams relied on last-minute heroics last week and it might come down to that again. Noon starts on the road, I don’t like, but I’m going to have to give PSU the benefit of the doubt on this one. Penn State 26, Minnesota 25. Take Minny and the points, and take the over.
I’ll be back after the game with a recap of what I saw and you’ll tell me what I dittn’t.
Well what sucks about this game is the noon kick, which is in reality 11AM in Minny and up until last Saturday was 10 AM thanks to good old DST! I know my body clock has not fully adjusted, so I’m hoping the Lions have gotten their rest and have their heads out of their asses for the opening whistle.
I too expected this to be a gimmee at the start of the season, but now don’t know what the hell is going to happen. With a typical PS defense, this would be a no-brainer, as this is the kind of offense we typically would stop cold, howwwweva this years band of brothers could rise to the occasion and have a knock out day or struggle like they have in the last few games just with outside contain.
I do have a feeling though and it could be form the burritos we had last night, that this one is gonna turn out alright for the Lions. I’m jumping in the lake with a 24-14 Lions victory. I think they will get their act together finally and put together a decent performance on both sides of the ball. Minny beating Nebraska & N’western just doesn’t impress me this season. And losing to Meeechigan? Everyone looks good against the team up north this year, soooo what happened? I’ll watch this one with things in perspective and hope my gut was feeding my brain the correct input.
i really want to take the lions in this one. really, i do.
psu 24 minn 27
If this game were played at the Beav, I’d consider taking State. But it’s not, and I don’t see State’s trend of being road game road kill ending anytime soon.
Minny shuts down State’s run, takes away Robinson, and forces Hack to make the short quick passes to other receivers. He overthrows too many open receivers and Sanguinarians say: “What do you expect. He’s an 18 year old freshman playing in a 20 mile an hour crosswind. He’ll be great once he gets experience playing in crosswinds.”
So, Goldy by 8. Take Minnesota and give the 2.5 points. After last week, I’m not touching the over/under.
PS I can’t believe JD took Minny. Either the blue Kool Ade is starting to taste sour or he’s trying to jinx the Goofers.
K. John says
Always running? Try always holding. And the trend continues. Penn State’s D plays well enough to hold Minnesota to 3 first half point but the officials quite literally hand them multiple touchdowns. Penn State is obviously the better team and not by a little bit. Call this one a win for the good guys, a loss by the cheaters from Minnesota and more reason why Penn State needs to leave the Big Ten. The Turkey knows I am right but is too scared to admit it.
So this is what it’s like to live in an alternate universe?
K. John says
Stop pretending like you don’t know I am right. The better team lost due entirely to officiating. Period.
Actually, I thought the officiating was pretty good today, with the exception of the first PI called on Minny. Should have been a non-call.
And I’m not pretending that I know you’re right, unless you’re wearing double rose-glasses, you are wrong. Minny was the better team across the board today and it showed and officiating had nothing to with it.
I guess officiating was responsible for Belton’s opening play fumble, the wide open TE for the TD due to blown coverage and the fumble between Howle and Hack from the one yard line in the fourth. Yep-the officials really blew those!
Sure you’re not watching another game with the PS radio broadcast on?
K. John says
If you think the officiating was OK, you have issues. No offense but if don’t realize the handicap Penn State has been playing against for two years you probably never will. I really think you need to start watching the games more closely. Bad officiating is Penn State’s biggest problem and the ONLY reason they lost two league games last year and two games this year. John Butler and injuries are battling neck and neck for #2 and #3. Every key play on Minnesota’s first TD drive featured a pretty massive hold, especially the third down play near the goal line. The same thing on their other two drives.
Please do us a favor and man up and have the courage to speak up when you see something wrong. Don’t be a coward and hide beyond the lame excuses everybody else does. Penn State won this game. The defense played great in the first half and pretty well in the second. The problem was they played against a team that didn’t have to worry about rules. As far as I am concerned, this was a win. Too bad the corrupt Big Ten has it in for State.
The Nittany Turkey says
Welcome back K. John. You liven things up around here.
I disagree with you. The better team won. Minnesota was better on both sides of the ball and they didn’t screw up. Penn State did and they deserved to lose.
They’re 5-4, not 8-1, but the beautiful thing is that you actually can pretend if it gives you comfort.
K. John says
Typical cowardly response. Despite how poor Penn State played at times and how many times they shot themselves in the foot, they would have won if the game was playing on an even field. That is a fact.
The Nittany Turkey says
A fact? No, it is an opinion.
Typical of your bellicose Sanguinarian diatribe, it is replete with the latter and completely devoid of the former.