Minnesota vs. Penn State: Daily Breakdown

The No. 13 Gophers have to rise to the occasion against No. 5 Penn State.

John Miller

When the Gophers and the Nittany Lions take the field on Saturday, it will be arguably the biggest game in TCF Bank Stadium history.

The Gophers are 8-0 coming off a 52-10 drubbing of Maryland, a game they dominated from the start. Meanwhile, Penn State is coming off a game against Michigan State where the Nittany Lions went into East Lansing and took care of the Spartans on the road 28-7.

The Gophers and Penn State will both be healthy and prepared, as both had bye weeks in preparation for Saturday’s game.

When the Gophers run the ball

The Gophers have finally got the run game going. Minnesota is coming off a game against Maryland where they had 321 yards rushing. Senior Rodney Smith has been a terror for opposing defenses for the last five games, averaging 135 yards in each game.

Having a healthy Mohamed Ibrahim and Shannon Brooks has been big for this Gopher offense. Ibrahim is averaging 4.65 yards per carry this season with six touchdowns. Brooks is averaging 5.8 yards per carry. 

Penn State has one of the toughest defenses in the nation in terms of stopping the run. They are No. 1 in opponent yards per carry allowed, giving up only 1.99 yards per rush. They are No. 2 in the country in terms of total rushing yards allowed per game, giving up only 68.4 yards per game.

Advantage: Penn State

Matchup to watch:

Running back Rodney Smith vs. linebacker Micah Parsons

When Penn State runs the ball:

Just like Minnesota, Penn State has a group of running backs who can rush the ball successfully. The Nittany Lions have three running backs who average over five yards per carry. 

Freshman running back Noah Cain started the year off hot, averaging 5.1 yards per carry for a total of 350 yards and six touchdowns. However, in the last two games he only has 11 carries for 40 yards. Freshman Devyn Ford and sophomore Journey Brown are averaging 6.5 and 5.8 yards per carry, respectively. Penn State has even gone to a fourth back, sophomore Ricky Slade, who is averaging 3.4 yards per carry.

The Nittany Lions appear to ride the hot hand, but all four backs should see touches throughout the game against Minnesota. Penn State ranks No. 61 in the country averaging 170.1 yards per game. 

Minnesota has vastly improved its run defense since the beginning of the year. They currently rank No. 26 in the nation, only giving up 117.4 yards per game and are holding their opponents to 3.61 yards per carry. 

Advantage: Minnesota

Matchup to watch: Linebacker Thomas Barber vs. running back Journey Brown

When the Gophers pass the ball

Tanner Morgan is still one of the most efficient quarterbacks in college football. He is No. 7 in the country in passing efficiency and No. 27 in completion percentage, completing 65.3% of his passes. 

Morgan has a bevy of weapons that he can throw to. Sophomore wide receiver Rashod Bateman continues to shine in an offense that prefers to run. On the year he has 644 yards receiving and six touchdowns. Senior Tyler Johnson has 43 receptions on the year for 626 yards and seven touchdowns. Minnesota also has a pretty good No. 3 wide receiver in redshirt sophomore Chris Autman-Bell, who is averaging 16.9 yards per catch and has four touchdowns receiving. 

The Nittany Lions have the No. 49 passing defense, allowing 1,693 yards through the air on the season. They are only allowing opposing quarterbacks to throw for 211 yards per game. Despite their success, they take on their most formidable passing opponent this season in the Gophers.

Advantage: Minnesota

Matchup to watch:  Tyler Johnson vs. cornerback John Reid

When Penn State Passes the ball:

The Nittany Lions haven’t had much trouble replacing now Ravens backup quarterback Trace McSorley. Sophomore Sean Clifford has filled McSorley’s shoes quite admirably. On the season Clifford is completing 62% of his passes, with 20 touchdowns and only three interceptions.

Clifford has one of the best wide receivers in the country to throw the ball to in K.J. Hamler. He has 37 receptions on the season for 620 yards and eight touchdowns and is regarded as one of the best wide receivers in the 2020 NFL Draft class if he chooses to enter.

The Gophers defense has had a lot of success against the pass this year. They are currently ranked as having the No. 9 passing defense in the country, allowing opponents to throw for 166.4 yards per game. Gophers safety Antoine Winfield Jr. is tied for second in the country with five interceptions.

Like Penn State’s defense, this will be the best passing offense Minnesota has faced all year.

Advantage: Minnesota

Matchup to watch: K.J. Hamler vs. cornerback Chris Williamson

Prediction: 35-24, Penn State wins

Everything else you need to know:

Start time: 11:00 a.m. CDT

Network: ABC

Radio: KFAN 100.3

Line: Penn State by 7