It sounds weird to say, but (3-3) Penn State’s biggest game of the season will be this Saturday at (1-6) Minnesota. Both teams are an absolute mess right now. The Nittany Lions have been ravaged by injuries on defense and inconsistent play on offense. The Golden Gophers are riding a six game losing streak and just showed head coach Tim Brewster the door after three and half seasons. Yes, desperation is at an all-time high for both schools and every game, from here on out, is a must win for Penn State.
There is no reason why the Nittany Lions should lose this game. The Golden Gophers are awful on defense and will be under the new guidance of interim head coach Jim Horton. This is the perfect opportunity to get the offense back on track and instill some confidence on that offensive line. Minnesota is giving up 31 points a game, ranks last in the Big Ten in run defense (201.1 ypg) and 10th in total defense (414.3 ypg). Expect Penn State to run the ball early and often, especially with Evan Royster just 92 yards shy of breaking the school’s all-time rushing record.
Defensively, Penn State matches up pretty well with Minnesota, despite all the injuries. The Gophers, like the Nittany Lions, have had troubles establishing the run this year and do most of their damage through the air with three-year starting quarterback and team captain Adam Weber. Weber is 4th in the league in passing and has decent stats (1,662 yards, 14 TDs, 6 INTs) but the Nittany Lions pass defense has been one of the lone bright spots this season. They’re holding their opponents under 170 yards passing per game but will be thin in the secondary with safety Nick Sukay done for the season with a pectoral tear.
Penn State’s defense is thin due to injury but it’s not unmanageable. They should have linebackers Mike Mauti (ankle), Bani Gbadyu (leg) and possibly Gerald Hodges back in the lineup, along with defensive end Jack Crawford. Wide receiver Chaz Powell will backup right cornerback Stephon Morris as needed but the extra week off should help heal up and refocus this defensive unit that was absolutely shredded at home against Illinois.
Penn State has a lot to prove this weekend against Minnesota. The Gopher program is in flux and the Nittany Lions need to take advantage of that. If they don’t come out with a sense of urgency and put this game away early then Penn State fans can finally kiss this season goodbye. Minnesota is the perfect team to pick on. If they can’t push around a team that has hit rock bottom then there is no hope against teams like Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State or even Northwestern for that matter. Now is the time for Penn State to step up and steer this ship in the right direction. They’ve simply exhausted all other excuses at this point.