In a competitive battle any penalty late in the game will be magnified. Penn State fought to get a chance to score late in the fourth quarter to win the game. An offensive pass interference call on Daniel George set the Lions back 15 yards at a critical moment. A pass interference call that was not made two plays later ended the chance of a Penn State comeback.
Minnesota was leading 31-19 when Penn State failed to score from the 5 yard line with ten minutes to play. The Gophers killed 4:21 of game time in 7 plays before giving the ball back. With little time to spare, Ricky Rahne guided the offense to the end zone in 2:28 to cut the lead to 5 with just under 4 minutes to play.
The Lions needed a stop, and with one of the best defenses in the country, they got it. Just 1:09 went off the clock and Penn State was able to hold on to one timeout to use on offense. Two consecutive plays for a loss, including a ten yard sack by Micah Parsons, made it possible.
With 2:39 to play, needing a touchdown, Sean Clifford had plenty of time to lead a game-winning drive when he took over at the 28 yard line. After two complete passes for a total of 12 yards, Jahan Dotson caught what almost became the game-winning touchdown.
Dotson was being trailed from behind by Antoine Winfield Jr. (11) but had he kept running for the pylon he may have made it to the end zone. It was a great play at a pivotal moment by Dotson and it set up 1st and 10 from the Minnesota 11 with 1:44 to play.
Two plays later Journey Brown caught a pass to the 2 yard line but an offensive pass interference was called on Daniel George. George (11) made contact downfield but the impact may have looked magnified in real time to the official since the safety behind the player involved with George got lost behind the two bodies.
Journey Brown made a nice cut to beat the linebacker in coverage and with the safety late in pursuit, the advantage gained by George’s entanglement with the corner may have appeared more important than it was on the outcome of the play. George was being covered by the player he engaged with but he did not touch the safety, who took himself out of the play momentarily.
Whether it was George that initiated the contact or the defender, the two players were both happy to occupy the other. George wanted to run the defensive back out of the area to clear it for Brown. The defender wanted to keep George from catching a pass.
The call moved Penn State back to the 24 yard line. After an incomplete pass intended for Daniel George, Clifford threw the ball toward an area that both Jahan Dotson and KJ Hamler would end up.
After a critical offensive pass interference moved the Lions back into a dire position, the referees did not feel that a penalty was committed by Minnesota.
Dotson’s left hand was clearly entwined with the hand of Benjamin St-Juste (25) and since it would have been beneficial for the receiver to have had the use of his hand at that moment, it is likely that St-Juste was the one that initiated the contact. Minnesota came away with the interception and the game was over.
There were plenty of plays throughout the game that could have made a difference for the Lions and it did not have to come down to whether a penalty call was made or not. It appeared that both Daniel George and Benjamin St-Juste got tangled with another player, slightly away from the play. One infraction got called, the other didn’t.
A penalty on Minnesota would have given Penn State the ball at the 12 with 1:01 to play and four downs to get to the end zone. Instead it goes down as the third interception of the day for Sean Clifford.
Three Probably Useless Observations
- With one loss there remains a path for Penn State to the make the College Football Playoff. It would require winning out through the Big Ten Championship and maybe a little love from the committee depending on what happens around the country. If that is the only hope for the fans, as it is for some, then hope remains alive.
- It would have been nice to have had Antonio Shelton and Noah Cain, but there was enough talent on the roster for the Lions to win. There were plays throughout the game that were not made that could have changed the outcome. Several players, young and old, made mistakes or failed to make routine plays, costing the team along the way. It never comes down to one thing so the team will share the burden of this loss.
- Minnesota is a good team and their fans really showed up. It would be nice to have a rematch in Indianapolis a month from now at the Big Ten Championship. We won’t look past Indiana, who at 7-2 should not be taken lightly, but a game against Ohio State is still out there and a win would go a long way to making the pain of this loss go away.