What you need to know: Penn State V. Minnesota
Each week, we’ll tell you what to expect, what to keep an eye on, and when and where you can catch the Nittany Lions on fall Saturdays this season.
Need-To-Know Details: Penn State vs. Minnesota/3:30 p.m./BTN
Records: Penn State (2-2, 0-1 Big Ten), Minnesota (3-0, 0-0 Big Ten)
Venue: Beaver Stadium, where Penn State has an all-time record of 273-72, for a winning percentage of 79 percent.
Weather Forecast (via AccuWeather): High of 69 degrees, mainly cloudy with showers.
The Overview: If Penn State has any chance to win eight or nine games this year, the Lions have to beat Minnesota and Maryland in consecutive weeks. Do that, and Penn State still has a shot at a successful season. Lose either — or worse, both — and the Oct. 22 matchup against Ohio State looms and the Lions potentially end up with a break-even record this season. Minnesota always seems like a team better than you’d expect; the Golden Gophers don’t receive an overwhelming amount of media coverage, and nothing they do is particularly flashy. But that doesn’t matter. What they do well is what Penn State has trouble defending (more on that shortly). At least for now, Penn State isn’t expected to beat teams such as Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State. But they have to beat everyone else, and that starts this weekend.
The Line: Penn State –3
All-Time Series: Penn State leads 8-5.
Last Time They Met (2013): Minnesota won 24-10, at Minneapolis. Penn State came out sluggish, fumbling the ball on the first play of the game and never gaining momentum. Minnesota raised its record to 8-2 win the win, but then the Gophers lost their final three games of the year and finished 8-5. For Penn State in that contest, Zach Zwinak rushed for 150 yards on 26 attempts, and Christian Hackenberg completed 14-of-25 passes for 163 yards. The loss also was the only game that season in which Hackenberg didn’t throw a touchdown pass.
Penn State Wins If: the Nittany Lions successfully defend the run. Opponents have been averaging 214 yards a game, with Minnesota typically racking up 228 per content. Essentially, Penn State needs to play like its season is on the line — because for some of the reasons listed earlier, it very well could be.
Minnesota Wins If: The Gophers can mirror the Wolverines. Specifically, gash Penn State with the running game. Michigan racked up 326 yards and six touchdowns on the ground in its 49-10 victory Saturday. The same day, Minnesota’s rushing attack amassed 243 yards and four scores in a 31-24 win against Colorado State.
Count On: Trace McSorley throwing at least one touchdown pass. The redshirt sophomore has tossed at least one score in five consecutive games, going back to the TaxSlayer Bowl against Georgia.
Keep An Eye On: Joe Moorhead. For the first time this season, Penn State’s offense was stifled. Playing on the road against a talented and deep team ranked No. 4 in the country will have that effect. Now, how will Moorhead and the offense respond? Minnesota gave up 75 points in its three non-conference games against Oregon State (23), Indiana State (28) and Colorado State (24). Look for the Lions to break the 30-point mark for the fourth time this season.
Trivia Tidbit of The Week, Part I: Penn State has won four of the last five against Minnesota, with its eight total victories in the series coming in a pair of four-game winning streaks (1993–98, 2005–10).
Trivia Tidbit of The Week, Part II: The Nittany Lions have won eight of their last nine games at Beaver Stadium, outscoring opponents 263-127.
*Saquon Barkley record book watch: After gaining 59 yards on the ground Saturday, Barkley now ranks 29th in all-time rushing yards at Penn State. The sophomore has 1,393.
**Season Record: 3-1
**Season Record Against the Spread: 2-2
Prediction: Penn State 31, Minnesota 27
* With Barkley ascending the all-time rushing list after every game, we’ve added this category to our weekly preview
** HappyValley.com season predictions