Gophers set to face Lions in Happy Valley

David La

Under normal circumstances, the raucous Beaver Stadium crowd of 97,000 is enough to cower the toughest incoming Penn State opponent.
Minnesota coach Glen Mason saw all he needed to see watching film this week.
“We get film of all their games,” Mason said, “and when the game’s on the line, the camera starts shaking. Why? Because the stands are shaking.
“I told the quarterback coach, ‘If you think we might have a little trouble audibling when the game is close, there’s your answer right there.”
By the way, Saturday is second-ranked Penn State’s 80th homecoming game, too. Not that it matters much. As Lions linebacker Brandon Short said, “I wouldn’t want to play a Penn State team any day.”
At the outset of this season, all signs pointed to this game as a likely Lions blowout. As the season progresses, however, Minnesota is sending a message to the Big Ten heavyweights — you’ll have to take us the distance, because we’re not going to be knocked out of a game.
Penn State linebacker LaVar Arrington is sending a message as well. The Lions are a senior-dominated squad who are intent on a national championship.
They are 3-0 in games decided by a touchdown or less this season.
“It’s pretty much the same team as last year,” Arrington said. “But I think in terms of the will to win, that’s what sets us apart.”
Co-captain Short sees his team as one that is looking ahead to championship goals, but avoids overlooking upset-minded teams like Minnesota.
“Our goals are so lofty that if anybody let down, we would look back on it 10 years from now and say, ‘We had a chance to do something so special and we let up,'” Short said. “So if we get beat it’s not because we were complacent, it’s going to be because we just got licked.”
Last year Short and the Penn State defense gave Gophers quarterback Andy Persby a lashing, sacking him seven times in a 27-17 win.
Arrington, Short and end Courtney Brown have the pass rush fired up as of late, leading the Lions to 24 sacks in the last four games.
“This will present our toughest defensive challenge of the year,” Gophers offensive coordinator Steve Loney said. “When you watch their films it’s almost like a kid playing one of those Nintendo games.”
The defense, combined with the roaring crowd, will test the intestinal fortitude of the Minnesota offense like never before this season.
An admirer from the other side of the ball, Gophers linebacker Sean Hoffman believes the offense is ready to be tested under pressure.
“I think the offense has matured so much now that if we get down a couple of touchdowns they’re going to put us right back in it,” Hoffman said. “That’s nice to have — we haven’t had that before.”
Minnesota is also benefitting from the play of running back Thomas Hamner. The senior is looking for his sixth-straight 100-yard game this season. Penn State is allowing 109.2 rushing yards per game.
On defense, the Gophers are preparing for the first dual-quarterback attack of the season.
Led by the arm of Kevin Thompson (nine passing touchdowns), or the legs of Rashard Casey (five rushing touchdowns), Penn State’s signal-callers give the same system drastically different looks.
In the estimation of defensive coordinator David Gibbs, Minnesota’s less-hyped but equally- solid defenders need to create turnovers to shorten the field for the offense.
No matter how short the field, the offense will be stared in the face all day by the nation’s most star-studded defense. A group that is made up of athletes good enough to even afford a mental lapse here and there.
“When you have that great athleticism, you have a chance to make up for your mistakes,” Mason said. “You can get out of position if you have great make-up speed.
“Whereas the less ability you have, the more perfect you have to be.”

David La Vaque covers football and welcomes comments at [email protected]