After a tough week that saw Penn State get knocked out by Minnesota, The Nittany Lions return to game action on Saturday against Minnesota & it is also the Whiteout.
For this week’s version of Behind Enemy Lines, We spoke to Jeffery Wald who covers Minnesota for FOX 9
1. Your Initial thoughts on Penn State vs Minnesota
It’s a huge game for both teams. The Gophers have lost two straight, might not have their starting quarterback and are fighting to stay in contention in the Big Ten West with 6 games left. They can right the ship with an upset win over a ranked team on the road in a hostile environment. Penn State is coming off its first lose, and their quarterback situation may also be in flux. This was a match-up before the season most Gophers fans assumed would be a road loss. After losing to Purdue and at Illinois, they need to find a game they weren’t supposed to win. This might be the best opportunity for a quality road win.
Minnesota’s defense MUST bounce back after giving up nearly 500 total yards to the Illini. Chase Brown ran for 190 yards, and caught a 40-yard touchdown pass. After the Gophers took a 14-13 lead to open the second half, Illinois scored 13 straight to pull away. Illinois made plays when it mattered, Minnesota didn’t.
2. Who on Offense should Penn State be concerned
If I’m the Penn State defense, I’m loading the box to stop Mo Ibrahim. He’s fourth in the nation, averaging 138 yards per game. He ran for 129 yards last week against a stingy Illinois defense, and it was his 14th straight 100-yard game. He rarely goes down on first contact. With unknowns for the Gophers at quarterback due to Tanner Morgan’s upper body injury, they’re going to lean on their sixth-year running back to carry the offense. Minnesota has talented wide receivers without Chris Autman-Bell, and a talented tight end in Brevyn Spann-Ford, but they’ve been inconsistent the last two games and with Morgan’s status not known, we have no idea what to expect from the wide receivers. Make whoever the quarterback is beat you.
3. What did you take away from last time that Penn State played Minnesota in 2019
It was a historic day for the program, getting their first 9-0 start for the first time in 115 years. Tanner Morgan had two NFL receivers in Rashod Bateman and Tyler Johnson, and Antoine Winfield Jr. stepped up with a pair of big interceptions on Sean Clifford. Jordan Howden sealed the win with an interception late, and it put PJ Fleck and the Gophers on the national landscape for the first time since Fleck came to Minnesota. It was a “Maroon Out,” and the team played up to the hype on campus that week. That was also one of the best games of Tanner Morgan’s career in now 44 games as a starter. It showed their ability to win a big game, and embrace the moment.
4. For those who don’t follow Minnesota what makes this matchup very interesting
To be quite frank, the unknowns of the quarterback situation on both sides. Tanner Morgan took a hit to the head in the fourth quarter last week, had to be carted off the field and was taken to a hospital before being cleared to fly home from Illinois. Morgan is not expected to practice until late in the week, if at all. If he can’t go, PJ Fleck has to decide between Cole Kramer and freshman Athan Kaliakmanis. Kramer is a wildcat quarterback who makes plays with his feet. Kaliakmanis has a big arm, but is raw and unproven as a freshman. He had two interceptions in the fourth quarter last week.
With Sean Clifford dealing with a shoulder injury, it’s a chance for the Gophers defense, No. 6 nationally in yardage allowed, to bounce back.
4. What is one reason why Minnesota defeats Penn State
A combination of Mo Ibrahim and the offensive line. Despite missing the loss to Purdue, Ibrahim still leads the Gophers with 694 rushing yards and nine touchdowns in five games. He’s averaging 6.7 yards per carry, and looked like his old self against Illinois. The Nittany Lions allow 136 rushing yards per game and more than four yards per carry, so opportunities to run the ball should be there. The offensive line, with four new starters this season, has had a tough two weeks against Purdue and Illinois. They need to play more physical against Penn State. Run the ball, sustain drives, eat clock and keep the Penn State offense on the sideline. The Gophers need a more consistent game on offense despite playing in a hostile environment at night in front of 100,000-plus fans for a “White Out.”
You can check out Jeff on Twitter at @JeffWaldFox9