Tough task ahead in young rivalry

The Gophers travel to University Park, PA to play No. 14 Penn State.

Tough task ahead in young rivalry

Austin Cumblad

ItâÄôs not the Pig, the Jug or the Axe. ItâÄôs not the most played or most bitter. But it is a rivalry, and one Minnesota wants to win âÄî badly. The Gophers (4-2 overall, 2-1 Big Ten) and No. 14 Penn State (5-1, 1-1) meet Saturday in University Park, Pa., with the GovernorâÄôs Victory Bell on the line. It will be just the 11th game in the series and the first since 2006. The game marks third-year Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster âÄôs first game against the legendary Joe Paterno and the Nittany Lions. âÄúIt’s very exciting for me; it’s very meaningful,âÄù Brewster said. âÄúYou’re going into truly one of the great football venues in America today in Penn State. You’re going to play in front of over 100,000 fans against a living legend. That’s pretty exciting.âÄù No current Minnesota player has played in Beaver Stadium. A handful of fifth-year seniors were a part of the team for the Nittany LionsâÄô 44-14 dismantling of the Gophers in 2005 but were redshirting at the time. The following year, that group was subjected to further heartbreak. In overtime, a failed point after attempt and a fourth-down pass interference penalty against Minnesota handed Penn State a 28-27 win at the Metrodome. Considering the circumstances of that 2006 loss, defensive tackle Garrett Brown said he and his fellow seniors feel the Victory Bell should have spent the last three years in Minneapolis instead of University Park. âÄúA lot of the guys from that class think definitely that the Victory Bell is ours, and weâÄôre planning on getting it back on Saturday,âÄù Brown said. That will be no small task. Beaver Stadium is one of the more hostile environments in the country, and Penn StateâÄôs fan base is notorious for its solidarity. The Gophers are fully aware of the scene they will walk into. âÄúYou just have to play football,âÄù senior wide receiver Eric Decker said. âÄúItâÄôs still the same game with a different atmosphere, which I think guys will get a handle on during pregame warm-ups âÄî hopefully get those jitters out. âÄúBut when it comes down to it, I think leadership is going to have to tell them âÄòHey, we have to go out and play our game, forget about whatâÄôs going on and get the job done.âÄô âÄù The Nittany Lions boast both the best total offense and total defense in the Big Ten. They average 427.5 yards of offense per game behind the conferenceâÄôs most efficient passer, senior Daryll Clark, meanwhile allowing opponents just 255.7 yards . In contrast, Minnesota ranks 11th and 9th in the conference in offense and defense , respectively. With the statistical mismatches, a top-15 opponent and Beaver Stadium, on paper, this one looks like a long shot. But the Gophers have had success on the road. TheyâÄôre 2-0 this year and were 3-2 in 2008; their losses were to Ohio State âÄî a game that was closer than its 34-21 final suggested âÄî and Wisconsin, 35-32 , playing without Decker against a team that protects its home field better than any other team in the country. The electric atmospheres of the Big Ten are what Minnesota lives for. âÄúThatâÄôs why we came here,âÄù senior cornerback Traye Simmons said . âÄúTo play in big games.âÄù And make big plays in big games. One week ago, against Purdue, the GophersâÄô defense and special teams did just that, intercepting a pass, forcing a fumble and blocking a field goal. The interception and fumble set up two easy scores for the offense, and Simmons returned the blocked field goal for a touchdown . Similar opportunistic plays will be key this weekend. âÄúWe want a minimum of three turnovers [each game],âÄù Brown said. âÄúWeâÄôre expecting to go in and get at least three turnovers, three big plays, and thatâÄôs going to help our offense.âÄù The Gophers offense has been generally one-dimensional this season, although it has varied week to week whether Minnesota leans on the run or the pass. Against Purdue, junior quarterback Adam Weber recorded career lows in attempts, completions and yards, but running backs Duane Bennett, DeLeon Eskridge and Kevin Whaley picked up the slack and led the Gophers to 207 rushing yards âÄî their highest total in nearly two years . The run game was the catalyst against Northwestern, as well. Beyond that, the offense has relied mostly on WeberâÄôs arm. Now, Weber says, Minnesota is looking for that complete game as the team looks forward. âÄúItâÄôs going to take a lot of hard work this week in preparation so we can fully grasp this game plan and know it inside and out, so that when we go out there, thereâÄôs no second-guessing.âÄù