Penn State (3-2, 1-1) defeats Minnesota (3-1, 0-1) 29-23 (OT)
Few mood swings could ever equal those which were elicited by this game. The 80,000 rabid fans at St. Joe Memorial Stadium at Beaver got more than their money’s worth. In the end, a decimated defense would intercept a crucial Minnesota pass in the red zone to turn the tide away from what surely looked like a loss and then stave off a Minnesota overtime touchdown drive, while a much maligned quarterback and a frustrated star running back who were shut down most of the game rose to the occasion when everything was on the line. Such were the changing tides for the Penn State Nittany Lions, who initially came out of the tunnel as flat as a pancake and after sleepwalking through the first half, took charge when charge needed to be taken.
Here in The Cave, it was hard not to overdo the alcohol in the first half, a couple of boring stanzas that ambled to a close with previously undefeated Minnesota leading 10-3. Third-downitis was once again evident for the Staties, who couldn’t seem to get a break. They didn’t convert a single third down during the first half. Trace McSorley’s passes were well off the mark, and Minnesota’s defense had decided to sell out to stop the Saquon Barkley run. Meanwhile, the running Gophers were galloping up and down the field in what would wind up being a 100+ yard day for their two rotating feature backs, Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks.
The Penn State offense finally got going in the third quarter, down 13-3. Then the game got a lot more exciting. The Nittany Lions had 190 yards of offense in the third quarter alone, 156 of them on deep passes. And the defense, depleted as it was, came to play in the fourth quarter, when they stopped an ominous Gopher drive at the 13 yard-line, as Jordan Smith intercepted a Mitch Leidner pass that would have set up a potential winning touchdown with the game tied at 20-20 at 3:51. However, the Golden Gophers were not giving up easily. After a three-and-out by the Lions, Minnesota ground out 58 yards into field goal range in a clock-eating strategic drive for what they thought would be the final 3-pointer, the successful conversion of which made the score 23-20 with 54 seconds on the clock. Penn State head coach James Franklin had used his timeouts to advantage to have that much time for Penn State’s last gasp. That sparked the PSU offense and particularly quarterback Trace McSorley, who commanded the 53-yard desperation drive needed to put Mr. Automatic, Tyler Davis, on the field to kick the tying field goal in the waning seconds of regulation time.
Penn State won the toss, electing to defend first in overtime. Minnesota chose to play in the quieter, student-free end of St. Joe Memorial. The Nittany Lion defense held Minnesota to a field goal on its possession in overtime, leaving it to the PSU offense to go for it all, which they did on the very first play. Saquon Barkley, on whom the Golden Gophers had put the defensive clamps all day, got the ball from McSorley and scampered 25 yards to the end zone, for a highly entertaining and most satisfying win. Penn State walked off the field with the vaunted Governors’ Victory Bell and a newly energized attitude. Let’s hope the mood swing stays swung in that direction henceforth.
This was just the shot in the arm the Nittany Lions needed as they prepare for the undefeated Maryland Terrapins (4-0, 1-0).
I’ll be back with a preview of the battle with the Turtles.