Secondary implodes in third quarter against Penn State

The unit gave up big plays through the air.

Defensive back Jalen Myrick catches the ball during the Gophers game against the Oregon State Beavers on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016 at TCF Bank Stadium.

Bridget Bennett, Daily File Photo

Defensive back Jalen Myrick catches the ball during the Gophers’ game against the Oregon State Beavers on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016 at TCF Bank Stadium.

by Mike Hendrickson

Penn State finished Minnesota off with a 25-yard touchdown run in overtime by sophomore running back Saquon Barkley, but the Nittany Lions were also victors through the air Saturday night in University Park, Pennsylvania.

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Trace McSorely had his best career game Saturday against the Gophers. He threw one pass of 36 yards, two of 53 yards, and an 80-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Irvin Charles.

Three of those four passes, including the 80-yard touchdown, all happened on consecutive drives in the third quarter.

“[In the] third quarter we weren’t very good,” head coach Tracy Claeys told reporters after the game. “That’s where we lost the football game.”

McSorely finished the day with 335 passing yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. The quarterback also led his team in rushing with 73 yards on eight carries with one touchdown.

This was the first time Minnesota had allowed over 325 passing yards in a game since it gave up 439 yards through the air in a 43-24 victory over San Jose State on Sept. 21, 2013.

Minnesota was up 13-3 at halftime, but Penn State outscored Minnesota 17-0 in the third quarter, when McSorely scored both of his touchdowns.

“We just struggled a little bit getting offense rolling, and then they made some plays on offense as well,” redshirt senior quarterback Mitch Leidner said after the game.

The Nittany Lions were still down 13-3 in the third quarter when the first big play happened.

McSorely aired the ball 30 yards on a 3rd-and-10 situation to Charles, who was being covered by redshirt junior safety Adekunle Ayinde. Charles shook off Ayinde effortlessly and ran the ball an additional 50 yards to bring Penn State within three.

The catch was the first of the redshirt freshman’s career.

“It got our offense going, on top of it, just to see [Irvin] get his first catch, and for him to break a tackle and go the distance,” McSorely said after the game. “That’s the kind of guy he is, and he feeds off of that confidence and that success.”

The success for Penn State’s passing offense didn’t end there.

Minnesota was forced to punt after three plays following the Charles touchdown, and Penn State picked up right where they left off.

McSorely’s first pass on the new drive was a 36-yard throw to wide receiver Chris Godwin that put Penn State at Minnesota’s 6-yard line.

The Nittany Lions tied the game on a field goal, and after forcing Minnesota out six plays later, they continued to make big plays.

Wide receiver Mike Gesicki beat Minnesota cornerback Jalen Myrick in one-on-one coverage and was wide open when McSorely aired a 53-yard pass to him. Myrick caught up to Gesicki before the end zone and tackled him at the 6-yard line.

Penn State took the lead on a rushing touchdown from McSorely two plays later.

“[Trace’s] ability to move in a pocket, as well as scramble and run the ball is a big part of who he is as a player,” Godwin said after the game. “We are glad to have him and we are glad that he has that ability because it helps us out.”

McSorely finished with 172 passing yards in the third quarter alone.

Claeys had a short response when asked if McSorely had great playmaking in Saturday’s game.