The desperation bowl between Penn State (3-3) and Minnesota (1-6) is just one day away. Both teams need a win badly. Here are my keys to the game.
1.) Penn State Offense vs. Minnesota Defense
There’s no sugar coating it. Penn State has the worst offense in the Big Ten. The Nittany Lions are last in the league in total offense (335.2 ypg) and scoring (18.2 ppg).
Penn State offensive coordinator Galen Hall and quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno have been taking a lot heat for the lack of creative play calling. Let’s see if they open things up with QB Rob Bolden and especially RB Evan Royster against Minnesota. The Golden Gophers are last in the league in scoring defense (31.7 ppg), rush defense (201 ppg) and total defense (414 ypg).
2.) The Red Zone
The red zone has been an issue for both teams all season long, especially on defense. Penn State’s opponents have scored in all 13 trips to the red zone this season, giving up nine touchdowns and four field goals. Minnesota is third in the Big Ten in red zone offense and is scoring 89 percent of the time with 11 touchdowns and six field goals in 19 trips.
Conversely, the Nits are last in the league in red zone offense, scoring just 70 percent of the time. Penn State only has six TDs and eight field goals in 20 trips. The Golden Gophers red zone defense is not been much better than Penn State’s, and has allowed opponents to score 92 percent of the time.
3.) PSU Offensive Line and Running Game
This has been the biggest issue plaguing the Nittany Lions this season. The Nits are down to their third string tight end in Kevin Haplea and have lost right tackle Lou Eliades for the season. The running backs have had few holes to run through and rushed for just 166 yards in their last two games.
That’s been part of the problem for Evan Royster who is just 93 yards shy of breaking the school’s career rushing record held by Curt Warner. Royster has cracked the century mark just once this season and has rushed for 50 yards or less in four of his first six games. Minnesota’s rush defense might just be what the doctor ordered. As stated above, the Gophers are last in the league in rush defense giving up more than 200 yards a game.
4.) Adam Weber
Weber is a difference maker for the Minnesota offense. He is one of the better quarterbacks in the Big Ten, although his numbers, up to this point, are not eye-popping. Weber has thrown for 1,662 yards, 13 TDs and six INTs. Six of those have gone to wide receiver Da’Jon McKnight.
Penn State has defended the pass pretty well this season but lost safety Nick Sukay for the year two weeks ago against Illinois. To address some depth issues in the secondary, head coach Joe Paterno has moved wide receiver Chaz Powell back to cornerback.
5.) Jeff Horton
Horton is the interim head coach for Minnesota and is taking over for Tim Brewster who was canned earlier this week after the Golden Gophers’ sixth straight loss. Penn State is unfamiliar with Horton, who used to be a head coach at Nevada, in the early 90s, and UNLV.
Penn State needs to match Minnesota’s intensity early on. The Golden Gophers should come out with a sense of urgency. They feel like they have something to prove after seeing their head coach get fired because of their poor play.
After two sub-par performances and a week off to prepare, the Nittany Lions should come in focused and ready to play. The Gophers don’t defend very well and the Penn State offense will be doing everything in its power to get Evan Royster the rushing record. Should be a decent day for the running game and a much needed win for Penn State.
PSU 27 - Minnesota 14