Penn State - 28
Minnesota - 27 OT
Two weeks ago it appeared this game wasn't going to be played until November. But the Detroit Tigers choked going down the stretch of the MLB regular season handing the division to the Minnesota Twins freeing up the Metrodome for this game. Joe Paterno found out late last Sunday evening that this game was on this week. After being 95% certain of this being a bye week for so long, the Nittany Lions came out as if they really weren't concentrating on this game.
The Lions started the game with a five yard false start penalty. A short Tony Hunt run followed by a poorly underthrown ball to Deon Butler and a dropped pass by Norwood and the Lions were punting. Minnesota got a great 17 yard return by Dominic Jones and six plays later Bryan Cupito hit Matt Spaeth on a 30 yard TD pass. (Minn 7-0) This was the sixth time in seven games this year the Gophers had scored on their first possession of the game.
The Lions got their first break of the game with four minutes left in the first quarter when Dominic Jones muffed a punt and Penn State jumped on it at the Minnesota nine yard line. Two plays later Tony Hunt punched it in the endzone from six yards out to tie the game. (PSU 7- Minn 7)
Joe Cianciolo's fumble recovery sparked the Lions to life.
After the Lions forced the Gophers into a 3&O on their next possession, Morelli went 5-6 in driving down the field to the Minnesota 10 yard line. But on 4th and 1 the drive stalled on a failed QB sneak turning the ball over to the Gophers on downs. With six minutes to go in the half, Minnesota faced a similar situation with 4th and 1 at the PSU 14. This time the Nittany Lion defense was equal to the task stopping Cupito on the QB sneak.
Penn State came out right after the turnover on downs and Morelli hit Derrick Williams on an electrifying 56 yard pass on the second play of the drive to move the ball all the way down to the Minnesota 16. But Penn State again came away with no points as the field goal snap was muffed. Holder Kevin Suhey tried to make something happen but his pass was intercepted by John Shevlin.
With 1:49 left in the half and two timeouts to play with Minnesota inexplicably came out playing conservative from their own 20. After three rushing plays including one that stopped the clock, the Nittany Lions forced a punt. Thanks to a great 17 yard punt return by Derrick Williams the Lions got the ball back at the Minnesota 39 with 1:14 in the half. Morelli hit Norwood on a 24 yard pass play down the left sideline and then hit Tony Hunt on a 15 yard screen pass that scored a touchdown. (PSU 14-7). So the Lions ended the half on a high note after wasting two opportunities in the redzone.
The 3rd quarter went by with the Gophers not crossing midfield. The Lions took two drives into Gopher territory in the quarter. Their best drive went to the 25, but ended in another missed Kevin Kelly fieldgoal.
The 4th quarter started with a nice Minnesota drive that ended with a 4 yard run by Amir Pinnix to tie the game. (14-14) Like heavyweight fighters exchanging blows, the Lions came right back with a 13 play 82 yard TD drive of their own. Tony Hunt carried the ball 8 times for 47 yards and Morelli was 4-4 for 41 yards including the 7 yard TD pass to fullback Matt Hahn. (PSU 21-14)
After stopping Minnesota on the ensuing drive, the Lions were unable to get a first down and had to give the Gophers the ball back on their 14 yard line with 2:33 to play. The Gophers grabbed yards in chunks as Cupito hit Logan Payne for a 42 yard play and followed it up with a 30 yard pass to Matt Spaeth down to the PSU 1. Amir Pinnix scored his second touchdown on the next play to tie the game and send it into overtime (21-21)
The Gophers got the ball first in overtime and wasted no time scoring on their second play with a 25 yard pass from Cupito to Eric Decker in a spectacular jump ball catch over Tony Davis. But Jason Giannini missed the crucial extra point leaving the door open. (Minn 27-21)
On their overtime possession the Nittany Lions came out looking like the Keystone Cops. A run by Tony Hunt was stuffed for one yard. Then two incomplete passes forced the Lions into a 4th and 9 situation. On 4th down Morelli threw an 11 yard pass to Deon Butler on the right sideline that fell incomplete. But the officials called defensive pass interference which looked questionable on the replay. Nonetheless it gave the Lions a first down at the Minnesota 13. The next play was a sweep to Derrick Williams for 11 yards down to the Gopher 2. Two plays later Tony Hunt bulled up the middle for the tying score. Kevin Kelly's PAT rang true and the Lions escaped with their first road win of the year.
Offensive Player of the Game
Anthony Morelli gets an honorable mention this week for his 20-34 281 yard 2 TD performance today. Any other week that would probably be enough for him to win. But not this week.
Tony Hunt had his usual workhorse day carrying the ball 31 times for 144 yards and 2 TD. He also caught a screen pass he ran in 15 yards for another score. His longest carry on the day was only 15 yards. But beyond the stats, Hunt took over the game in the fourth quarter. Time and time again Tony got hit at the line, but he spun off his defender and churned up field for 5 or 6 yards. He wasn't pretty. At times it was ugly. But when the defense was starting to look gassed the team needed a time consuming drive and a score, so Hunt carried the ball 8 times for 47 yards and converted 3 first downs. For his gutsy play late in the game, Hunt wins the BSD Offensive Player of the Game.
Workhorse...thy name is Hunt
Defensive Player of the Game
Here again I'm torn between several players for the award this week. Everyone played so well it's hard to pick one guy. Tony Davis gets an honorable mention here. He was picked on all day as Minnesota tried to mostly avoid Justin King. Smith was up to the task breaking up two passes and only getting burnt once on the jump ball to Decker in the endzone.
And let there be no doubt that Paul Posluszny is back to his old self. Paul led all PSU defenders with 9 tackles, all of them solo. He was all over the field reeking havoc all day.
But this week we're going to go with Jay Alford for the Defensive Player of the Game award. Jay was tied for second on the team with 7 tackles (4 solo). He had 1.5 sacks and 3 TFL for 12 yards. Jay now leads the team with 4 sacks on the year.
Black Shoe Diaries Said...
Spaeth finished the day with 6 catches for 99 yards and 1 TD. I'd say that was a winner.
Minnesota was held to 68 yards rushing. I overestimated how well Minnesota would run the ball. A pleasant surprise.
Logan Payne - 6 catches 94 yards
Eric Decker - 4 catches 66 yards 1 TD
Ernie Wheelwright - 4 catches 34 yards
Not spectacular numbers, but we didn't shut them down either. Push.
Hunt finished with 31 carries for 144 yards and 2 TD. He also caught a pass for a 15 yard TD. Winner.
Hunt scores 1 of his 3 TDs
Butler had 6 catches for only 66 yards. His longest catch was 18 yards. Derrick Williams had a bigger day with 4 catches and 95 yards. Williams also had a nice 17 yard punt return and 3 rushes for 22 yards including the crucial 11 yard run in overtime to set up the winning TD. Williams quietly finished second on the team with 135 all purpose yards.
26 carries for 76 yards and 2 TD. Not bad.
Not so much. They were in position to make three field goals. The first time they opted to go for it on 4th and 1 at the Minnesota 10. Morelli got stuffed on the QB sneak. They muffed the hold on the second chance for a field goal. And Kelly just outright missed an attempt from 42 yards.
If PSU makes the 3 FG's I was counting on I'm right there at the end of regulation. They missed two and opted to go for it on 4th and 1.
Impressions of the Game
Anthony Morelli seemed to definitely improve this week. Perhaps he was concentrating harder on protecting the ball with his injured finger. He only had one bonehead throw into double coverage. But it was deep into Minnesota territory and a worthwhile risk considering the field position. There were a few instances where he showed maturity in throwing the ball away. Other than a poorly underthrown pass to Butler on the first drive and another pass badly behind his receiver in the second half that almost got intercepted he was pretty accurate all day completing 59% of his passes.
The redzone play calling is a real problem. The coaches insist on sending three tight ends into the game once they get inside the opponent 10 yard line. They insist on rushing up the middle even though the Gophers stacked everyone on the line. The first touchdown they managed to stuff it in regardless of the Gophers looking for it. I write that up to the Gophers run defense being so poor. The second touchdown came on a Tony Hunt screen pass in the redzone. The third TD came on a nice play action pass to Matt Hahn in the flat. And the overtime TD was set up on a sweep play by Derrick Williams. What we can take away from all of this is when PSU gets the ball outside in the redzone, good things happen. Most of the time when they tried to run between the tackles they came up short.
Overall the defense had a good day. But they were obviously tired at the end giving up two touchdown drives in the 4th quarter. They showed poor tackling especially on the 42 yard pass to Payne. The corners seemed overmatched much of the day which could be a result of the soft zone they played all day as much as the skill of the Gopher receivers. This is a big concern with Michigan looming. Manningham and Arrington are a few notches better than Payne and Wheelwright. And Henne is better than Cupito at throwing the deep ball.
Next Saturday the Lions meet the Michigan Wolverines who beat Michigan State 31-7 today. The Wolverines cost the Lions their only loss last season on a last second throw from Henne to Manningham. Michigan is currently ranked #6 but figures to move up after Auburn lost today and USC struggled. Penn State has lost seven consecutive games to the Wolverines dating back to 1996 when they beat Michigan by a score of 29-17.