Franklin’s Penn State stalled by his “man-crush”

Antoine Winfield Jr. ruined several scoring opportunities for Penn State, making plays all game long.

Gophers Safety Antoine Winfield prepares to catch an interception at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 9. The Gophers defeated Penn State 31-26 to bring their record to 9-0. A first since 1904.

Kamaan Richards

Gophers Safety Antoine Winfield prepares to catch an interception at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 9. The Gophers defeated Penn State 31-26 to bring their record to 9-0. A first since 1904.

Nolan O'Hara

Ahead of their matchup against the undefeated Gophers, Penn State head coach James Franklin joked he had a “man-crush” on Gophers’ safety Antoine Winfield Jr.

At the game’s conclusion, Franklin has likely seen enough of the Gophers’ safety. On Penn State’s first drive, Winfield notched his sixth interception of the season, picking off Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford’s deep ball. His interception led to a 66-yard touchdown pass from redshirt sophomore Tanner Morgan to true-sophomore Rashod Bateman, and the Gophers took an early 7-0 lead. 

Winfield wasn’t done. He picked off Clifford again in the second, returning it 33 yards and putting the Gophers’ offense in great field position. That marked Winfield’s seventh interception of the season, tying the program record with three games still to play. 

“Yeah, I had them all the way,” said Winfield about his two interceptions. “On the first one, I knew he was getting the ball, so I had to go and make that play. The second one, we practiced that this whole last week.”

The Penn State turnover turned into more points for the Gophers, this time a touchdown coming off a perfect back-shoulder pass from Morgan to senior wide receiver Tyler Johnson, who made a one-handed grab and shrugged off a tackle on the way to the end zone. Suddenly, Minnesota was up 21-10 against the No. 5 ranked team in the country. 

Each team added a field goal before half, but it was thanks to Winfield that Penn State didn’t get six. Clifford hit his favorite target, tight end Pat Friermuth, wide open with a lane to the end zone, but Winfield stopped him dead in his tracks at the seven-yard line. As time was running down, Penn State kicked the field goal to put points on the board before the half. The Gophers went into the locker room with a 24-13 lead. By halftime, Winfield not only had two interceptions, but he also led Minnesota in tackles with seven.

Minnesota was rolling heading into halftime, but Penn State wasn’t ready to go away. They forced a fumble from redshirt senior Shannon Brooks and converted the turnover into six as Clifford tossed it to tight end Nick Bowers for the touchdown. They failed to convert on the two-point conversion, but cut the Minnesota lead to five. The Gophers answered early in the fourth as quarterback Seth Green punched it in from one yard out. The Gophers took the 31-19 lead. 

Penn State scored late, cutting the Gophers lead to five and got the ball back with less than three minutes left to score the game winning touchdown. For Minnesota, the defense came up big again with another interception. This time it was sophomore defensive back Jordan Howden, getting the interception in the end zone and sealing the victory for Minnesota. The Gophers remain undefeated with the win over Penn State, getting their first 9-0 start since 1904. 

As soon as the clock hit zero, fans stormed the field surrounding the team after their biggest win in years. 

“I don’t remember anything. I just remember and bunch of people, that’s it,” Bateman said. 

The end may have been a blur, but the Gophers’ vision is clear as it’s ever been. 

“That was the whole vision, to have that field swarmed on a top-five team in the country,” said head coach P.J. Fleck. “That’s not the end all, but what I do want to do is raise the expectation of the University of Minnesota.”