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Still Safe: Penn State Beats Minnesota 29-26 (OT)

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Are you not entertained? In a game where many said James Franklin was coaching for his job, he managed to push out a win in overtime.

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Penn State Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Two years ago, James Franklin found himself in a precarious situation, his moment of truth, if you will. Coming off four straight losses, Franklin faced a stretch of games that would decide whether he’d make a bowl game or not. He went 2-1 in that stretch, and the rest is history.

Franklin finds himself with another moment of truth of sorts. After last week’s 49-10 defeat at the hands of Michigan, Franklin faces another stretch of game he cannot afford to lose. The stretch started today, against a Minnesota team coming to Beaver Stadium with an unblemished record, a strong running attack, and the desire to prove that they’re a quality team this season.

Both teams tried to establish their identity early in the game, with moderate success. The Golden Gophers mixed their running attack with the play action pass, using Rodney Smith early and often, then introducing Shannon Brooks later in the first quarter. On the other side, the Nittany Lions attacked the Minnesota secondary early, then letting Saquon Barkley run loose.

It was evident from the start that Penn State was much better prepared for what Minnesota wanted to do on the ground. The Gophers tried a similar strategy as what worked last week against Michigan and three weeks ago against Pitt, but the Lion’s linebackers, led by Manny Bowen, were not having it today. The stretch plays that worked so well a few weeks ago were getting only moderate yardage in this game. Minnesota earned 228 yards on the ground, well below the 300+ yards the Lions allowed against the two aforementioned teams. Against a team who has been averaging well over 300 yards a game so far this season, it’s a good sign. This is magnified when you factor in the missing Linebackers on the defensive side.

On the other side of the ball, the offensive line continues to struggle with opening lanes for Saquon Barkley. Saquon had to work for every yard he gained in the game, but don’t blame the offensive line for all of it. Barkley needs to learn that getting three or four yards on every carry is better than getting 23 yards on one carry and zero on the next five. The overall inability to get a consistent running game cost Penn State 8 points, after having to opt for a field goal twice inside the Minnesota ten-yard line. However, Barkley came through when it mattered, running right up the middle in overtime to seal the victory for the Nittany Lions.

An offense that seemed dead in the water in the first half woke up. Big passes from Trace McSorley to Irvin Charles, Chris Godwin, and Mike Gesicki, respectively, set up three scoring drives for 17 consecutive points. In the span of one quarter, Penn State went from down ten to up seven. What made the offense even more effective was seeing the R in RPO finally happen. McSorley opted to keep the ball on a few plays in each of the scoring drives, which not only kept the drives alive, but led to the go-ahead touchdown on a little scamper by Trace.

Penn State’s defense, gassed in the fourth quarter, allowed two more drives to put Minnesota up 3 with less than a minute to play, but Tyler Davis’ clutch 40-yard field goal with two seconds on the clock sent the game to overtime.

Just when the good news were coming in in terms of injury, another player goes down. Penn State traded corners with Grant Haley coming back, while Christian Campbell went down with an undisclosed leg injury. The other good news was Parker Cothren coming back as well, and he was immediately effective in his time on the field. A targeting call on Curtis Cothran in the second half, however, means he’ll miss the first half against Maryland, so another key defensive player will be out of the game for the Nittany Lions next week.

Penalties are still a problem. Even if you don’t agree with the targeting call on Cothran, the multiple facemask penalties on the defense kept Minnesota in this game. One of those penalties was on Marcus Allen, near the end of the game, when Smith was all but down for a big loss. That penalty set up Minnesota’s last field goal in regulation. There’s only so much the staff can do to alleviate some of these penalties, but anything they can do to get them settled needs to be done, as soon as possible.

All in all, this was one of the most fun games for Penn State in a long time. Boston College, Michigan, and Wisconsin come to mind as games where it came down to the wire, Penn State came down, but fought their way back and took the game when it was all said and done. Better yet, James Franklin gets to keep his job for another week.

Three Key Takeaways

1) Run. Pass. Option. - Trace McSorley put the game on his shoulders in the third quarter, making key plays with both his hands and his legs to give Penn State a lead late in the third quarter.

2) Don’t mess with Julius - Minnesota’s Jalen Waters took a cheap shot on Joey Julius as Julius started to slow down. Rightfully, he got ejected. Don’t do that again, buddy.

3) Getting closer - The defense did not need a half to adjust today, but the offense did. If Penn State can put both sides of the ball together in the first half, good things will happen.

Looking Ahead

Penn State continues its critical stretch with a tilt against another undefeated team in Maryland next Saturday. After the clinic the Terrapins put on Purdue this Saturday, it’s looking like that game will be another battle. Game is at Noon on BTN.