Penn State-Minnesota Game Preview

Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

The Nittany Lions take on the suddenly surging Screamin' Eagles Golden Gophers to try to pick up win number six of the 2013 campaign.

Penn State (5-3, 2-2) vs. Minnesota (7-2, 3-2)

Kickoff: Noon., TFC Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, MN

The Line: PSU +2.5

TV: ESPN2 Beth Mowins (play-by-play), Joey Galloway (analyst) Paul Carcaterra (sideline)

Weather: Mid-to-upper 30s at kickoff with a high of 45 degrees. A cloudy and windy day is expected with a small chance of rain.

COACHES:

Bill O'Brien:

PENN STATE RECORD: 13-7, 2nd year

OVERALL RECORD: 13-7

VS. MINNESOTA: First meeting

Jerry Kill*:

MINNESOTA RECORD: 16-18, 3rd Year

OVERALL RECORD: 143-91, 20th Year

VS. PENN STATE: First meeting

...NOW THE FUN PART

MINNESOTA OFFENSE VS PENN STATE DEFENSE

Minnesota will try to keep the ball on the ground and eat up clock on Saturday. Basically, good ol' fashioned B10 football. The Gophers no longer have a dominant backfield with the likes of Marion Barber III, Laurence Maroney, etc., but they still have one of the better rushing attacks in the nation. Junior David Cobb leads the way with 803 yards and six touchdowns in nine games. Sophomore Rodrick Williams Jr. is an impressive young back, but is listed as questionable for Saturday as he heals from an injured foot. Quarterback Phillip Nelson will even get in on the action on the ground. He has tallied 295 rushing yards with 5 touchdowns, including a 48-yard scamper. His 4.5 yards per rushing attempt is extremely impressive when you consider this number also includes sacks.

No one will confuse Nelson for a premiere quarterback, but the sophomore has steadily improved and is putting together a solid season. He is completing 56.1 percent of his attempts on the season, and has twice as many touchdowns (8) as interceptions (4). But there's no doubt that when Minnesota passes, it will be to keep the defense honest, and at times, try to catch them off guard.

Penn State's defense actually matches up very well against this offense. If Minnesota wants to continually run between the tackles, Penn State's defense will shut them down quickly. Don't be surprised if Penn State forces a couple early three-and-outs before the Gophers decide to start attacking the edges.

MINNESOTA DEFENSE VS PENN STATE OFFENSE

Minnesota's defense doesn't do any one thing particularly well, and they especially struggle against the pass. Penn State could put up plenty of points if they play to their full potential- a big if for a unit that struggles to find consistency for a full four quarters. Hackenberg will come out firing, and expect big days for Allen Robinson and Jesse James.

The Gophers fare better defending the run, but not by a whole lot. The Gophers give up 4.3 yards per rush attempt on the season. Bill Belton has to be licking his chops in anticipation of building upon his career day against Illinois.

While Minnesota may not do anything exceptional on defense, they are good at keeping teams out of the end zone. They possess one of the top red zone defenses in the nation, and when someone really needs to make a play they usually find a way to get a stop.

The key stat of this game will be the number of Penn State first downs. If Penn State can move the ball effectively, they should come out with a 'W.' If they struggle to stay on the field, Minnesota's rushing attack will eventually wear down Penn State's defense and run at will in the second half. It's really that simple.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Minnesota is solid across the board on special teams, especially when it comes to preventing big returns. We'll count it as a moral victory if Penn State returns a kickoff past their own 20 on Saturday.

Kicker Chris Hawthorne is having an outstanding senior season. He may not have the leg to blast a 50+ yard field goal, but rarely misses inside of 45 yards. Sophomore punter Peter Mortell is a major part of the Gophers' success, regularly booming near 60-yard punts to give Minnesota a huge advantage with field position.

PREDICTION

MINNESOTA-28 PENN STATE-27

I really like the way Penn State matches up for the most part, but just have a bad feeling about this game. Perhaps it's because the Nittany Lions have found ways to pull out two recent improbable victories, and it just feels like they won't get the same bounces this week solely based on the law of averages. Penn State's offense will be able to point up points throughout the day but will struggle to move the ball for stretches of time, ultimately causing the team's decline this week. The defense will play well throughout the day, but will be asked too much as the Gophers stay on the field and eventually wear them out.

But hey, I'm wrong all the time (just ask my wife). I'll be more than happy to hear "told you so" if Penn State puts together a big day that sees Minnesota come crashing back to earth.


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