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Gophers begin conference play at Penn State

Minnesota preparing for tough atmosphere at Beaver Stadium.
Gophers quarterback Mitch Lender hands the ball off to running back Rodney Smith on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016 at TCF Bank Stadium.
Image by Bridget Bennett
Gophers quarterback Mitch Lender hands the ball off to running back Rodney Smith on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016 at TCF Bank Stadium.

The Gophers came out of their home-only non-conference schedule just the way they wanted: undefeated.

Minnesota faces a bigger challenge though as the Gophers open up Big Ten play at Penn State — the first time Minnesota has played at the 106,572 person capacity stadium since 2009.

“We’ve got some young guys who haven’t played in a place like that and for that to be their first away game as well, it’s going to be interesting,” said redshirt senior quarterback Mitch Leidner. “Hopefully this week in practice we will be able to get prepared for that. Got to get ready to yell and scream and lose my voice that game.”

Head coach Tracy Claeys said that in order to prepare for the atmosphere of Beaver Stadium, the team will practice with a speaker system that simulates crowd noise and blaring sounds.

His concerns about the sound don’t lie with the defense, but more on the offense, he said.

“That’s my biggest concern going on the road right now,” Claeys said. “Defensively, it’s not a problem. Most of the crowds are quiet on the road when you’re playing on defense.”

The Penn State game will be the Gophers’ first regular season road game since Nov. 14, 2015 against Iowa.

Redshirt junior tight end Nate Wozniak said it is tough to get acclimated when they have had so many consecutive home games.

“I think the first challenge is always kind of the atmosphere, getting used to going to a different team’s stadium,” he said. “Getting in there and getting settled during warm-ups is really important. I think that’s the only tough part.”

Leidner said the team will draw on its past experiences from when Minnesota played at Michigan Stadium and Camp Randall Stadium to prepare the younger players for an atmosphere like Beaver Stadium.

He said the key for playing well in those stadiums is preparing for it in practice and getting a good start on offense.

“[You have to] make something happen to maybe quiet the crowd down a little bit or just get the offense’s confidence up and get other guys’ confidence up as you keep moving forward throughout the game,” Leidner said.

Sophomore running back Saquon Barkley led the Nittany Lions in rushing last season and received Second Team All-Big Ten honors.

Gophers linebacker Jonathan Celestin said the team is prepared for Barkley, as he sees some of Barkley’s qualities in the group of running backs Minnesota has.

“I see a little bit of [Rodney Smith’s] shiftiness, [Shannon Brooks’] strong-ness, a little bit of [Kobe McCrary’s] size,” Celestin said. “We see it every day in practice, so … we should be able to defend him well.

Penn State is coming off a 49-10 loss against No. 4 Michigan but won both of its home games against Kent State and Temple.

Claeys said he knows Penn State is a better team than what they showed against Michigan.

“I don’t think any team deserves to be judged by one game,” he said. “They spread the field on you and create problems … We will have to play awfully well in order to win on the road.”


-Freshman cornerback Coney Durr, who was listed as the backup cornerback for the Colorado State game but didn’t play, is out with an unspecified injury. Redshirt freshman Zo Craighton will take his spot, as the Gophers’ defensive back depth gets even thinner.

-Linebackers redshirt senior Nick Rallis and freshman Carter Coughlin are out as well. Rallis has been out since the Oregon State game with a left arm injury and Coughlin suffered an elbow injury in the fourth quarter of the Colorado State game.

-There is no update on the four defensive backs that were suspended by Claeys before the Indiana State game.

-Leidner finally met his loyal group of fans from a tailgate contingent called “Leidner Island” after Saturday’s game. “The first thing they said when I saw them was, ‘Dude, I love you.’ I was like alright. That’s pretty cool,” Leidner said.

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