Gophers fall in Horton’s first game as coach

Minnesota lost 33-21 to Penn State, dropping to 1-7 on the season and 0-5 at home.

Junior Wide Receiver Da’Jon McKnight scores a touchdown against Penn State on Saturday at TCF Bank stadium.

Simon Guerra

Junior Wide Receiver Da’Jon McKnight scores a touchdown against Penn State on Saturday at TCF Bank stadium.

Josh Katzenstein

Regardless of whoâÄôs coaching, everyone on the Gophers football team knows itâÄôs difficult to win games with self-inflicted wounds. But like the six weeks before, that understanding wasnâÄôt on display much Saturday.

The timing of the GophersâÄô six penalties âÄî two on defensive third downs âÄî and Adam WeberâÄôs lone interception severely hurt the Gophers in a 33-21 home loss to Penn State âÄî their seventh straight loss.

âÄúItâÄôs tough when, as a defense, you get drives and you get off the field on third down or itâÄôs third down and you stop them then youâÄôve got a flag,âÄù senior safety Kyle Theret said. âÄúIt kind of just deflates your balloon a little bit, but as a defense âÄî as a team âÄî thatâÄôs when weâÄôve got to snap out of it, get back into it and get a stop.âÄù

Theret had the second of two questionable third-down pass interference penalties on a second-quarter drive that resulted in the Nittany Lions (4-3, 1-2 Big Ten) taking a 14-7 lead. Cornerback Troy Stoudermire and Theret both made hits on balls that couldâÄôve been ruled uncatchable.

A Minnesota team thatâÄôs 1-7 (0-4 Big Ten) cannot blame the referees for a loss, but in his first game as interim head coach, Jeff Horton wanted the game to be fair. The questionable penalties against the Gophers helped fuel the teamâÄôs frustration when, on the next drive, wide receiver DaâÄôJon McKnight fell between two defenders in the end zone and watched DâÄôAnton Lynn intercept Adam WeberâÄôs ill-advised pass.

After the game McKnight said the defender âÄúobviously tripped me,âÄù but conceded that there was more to the loss than the referees.

Lynn returned the pick to the Minnesota 42-yard line, and Penn State took a 21-7 lead on the next play, a 42-yard pass from third-string quarterback Matt McGloin âÄî the fourth attempt and first completion of his career âÄî to wide receiver Derek Moye.

âÄúIf youâÄôre not playing well, it seems like whenever a bad thing happens it goes against you,âÄù Horton said. âÄúI donâÄôt know if I agree with everything, but IâÄôve got to live with it.âÄù

Things werenâÄôt going well for the Nittany Lions either. In the second quarter, starting quarterback freshman Rob Bolden left the game with concussion-like symptoms after starting 11-for-13 for 130 yards and a touchdown. His backup, sophomore Kevin Newsome, played sparsely after being ill for most of the week, so sophomore McGloin had to step up.

âÄúWe knew when we got the other guy [McGloin] what they were going to do,âÄù said Theret, implying that Penn State would run more, which it did. âÄúWe shot ourselves in the foot too many times today âÄî bottom line âÄî as a defense.âÄù

Horton and Theret both said they expected the Nittany Lions to take a shot after WeberâÄôs interception, which came just four plays after Weber became the fifth player in Big Ten history to eclipse 10,000 passing yards in a career.

But the secondary wasnâÄôt deep enough, and Moye was wide open for the first of his two touchdown catches of the day. He finished with three catches for 81 yards but wasnâÄôt the best receiver on the field.

That title goes to the GophersâÄô junior McKnight, who had eight catches for 103 yards and all three of the teamâÄôs touchdowns. Sophomore MarQueis Gray added seven catches for 83 yards and junior running back DeLeon Eskridge ran 26 times for 111 yards.

In fact, on paper, the Gophers looked like the superior team. Minnesota out-gained Penn State 433 yards to 351, controlled the ball for seven more minutes and had nine more first downs. But it wasnâÄôt enough.

âÄúThe gameâÄôs not always about statistics,âÄù said Weber, who finished 26-for-49 for 299 yards, three touchdowns and that critical interception. âÄúItâÄôs those crucial third downs we didnâÄôt pick up. We were pretty good, but when it mattered in critical situations, we werenâÄôt able to make the big play, and thatâÄôs kind of been the story of our season.âÄù

The two stories for the Gophers this season âÄî aside from Tim BrewsterâÄôs firing last week âÄî have been an inability to convert on third down and tackle. Minnesota converted just five of 16 third downs and misfired on three of five fourth downs, all of which came in Penn State territory.

Missed tackles also helped pad the Penn State running backsâÄô stats. Senior Evan Royster ran 10 times for 63 yards and true freshman Silas Redd went for a career-high 73 yards on just nine carries.

Theret said tackling is a âÄúwant to,âÄù and most times, the first guy to the ball carrier didnâÄôt want to make the tackle Saturday before the smallest crowd in TCF Bank Stadium history (48,479 announced), due in part to President Barack ObamaâÄôs afternoon appearance at a rally down the street.

âÄúIf we donâÄôt shoot ourselves in the foot today, we think thatâÄôs a totally different outcome in that ball game,âÄù Theret said. âÄúBut the bottom line is, we did, so weâÄôre 1-7.âÄù

Related

Gophers  vs. Penn State Live Blog

Paterno’s longevity represents what Gophers lack (10/21)

Horton, Gophers got nothin’ to lose (10/20)

Brewster out after sixth loss (10/18)