Game Day Observations: Minnesota
Minneapolis isn’t your average Big Ten town, nor are the Gophers your average Big Ten team this year. It was cold, it wasn’t particularly exciting football, and the result stunk, but TCF Bank Stadium is certainly an interesting place to watch a college football game.
Here are my observations from the stands now that I’ve finally thawed out:
- Minnesota has the second largest enrollment in the Big Ten in the second biggest conference city, behind Columbus. It doesn’t have that indescribable “college town” feel that so many other schools in the Big Ten enjoy, although Minneapolis is a fine city. The sprawling campus is separated from the main downtown area by the Mississippi River, so there is some semblance of isolation but not much. From my two days around town, it seemed like most students partied on the college side of the river while alumni and urbanites mingled on the other.
- TCF Bank Stadium is probably the nicest in the Big Ten — although when I say nicest, I don’t mean the best. There’s something to be said for the menacing structure of Beaver Stadium or the history of the Big House, but as far as amenities go, TCF, built in 2009, was in another league. The concourse was spacious and the food options were expensive but plentiful. It wasn’t hard to tell that the place was very modern. They served beer, too!
- The temperature was hovering around freezing all day, so the free hand warmers came in handy. I had never actually been given something at the gate of a college football game before, so the two hand warmer packs and the American flag were pleasant surprises.
- This Dave Winfield life size bobblehead inside the stadium might be the most Minnesota thing ever.
- It was great to see Zach Zwinak get some facetime again. He would consistently add 2 or 3 yards after contact and drag the pile, finishing with 150 yards on 26 carries. The circumstances that led to his playing time concern me though. Yes, Belton’s fumble on the first play of the game was inexcusable. But it can’t be healthy for either running back to know that if they fumble once, they’ll likely be done for the game. One fumble shouldn’t take someone out for the day like it did Belton, despite Zwinak’s success.
- This game makes me even more frustrated than the blowout losses to Ohio State and Indiana. Sure, Minnesota is almost certainly the better team this year, but this was definitely a game Penn State could have won. Iowa blew these guys out back in September, after all. Between the Belton fumble, Hackenberg goal line fumble, and consistently blown pass coverage, Penn State put itself out of it. Oh, and the play calling…
- This column today from Cory Giger sums up my thoughts on the play calling nicely, but it bears repeating. This series in the 4th quarter just makes me scratch my head.
- Zwinak was good for 4-5 yards a play for the entire game, and yet we don’t give it to him at all on this crucial series in the red zone? Instead we run two out routes in a row which Hackenberg blatantly overthrew. This series earlier in the 4th quarter took us out of another drive too:
- Again, Hackenberg was clearly having an underwhelming day at this point. Zwinak wasn’t. Allen Robinson was being double teamed and Hackenberg couldn’t get any sort of connection with Felder. Penn State should be able to win most games in this league when it only allows 24 points. And yet, it didn’t even come close.
- Minnesota evidently put all its money into building a new stadium and not enough into personnel. I didn’t see a single usher in any section for the entire game, and I was able to sit fourth row right next to Penn State’s tunnel with my $20 upper deck ticket without being bothered. Imagine something like that at Beaver Stadium! I can’t even go buy a pretzel without someone from Securitas marking up my ticket and interrogating me on the way back.
- Major congratulations go out to Muff Muff on the big upset this weekend. If Penn State couldn’t win I’m glad Muff Muff did.
- It was great to see Penn State legend (we can say “legend” at this point, right?) Michael Mauti roaming the sideline, although it was a bit weird to see him not in uniform. During several of the key defensive stops (read: in the second half), Mauti even celebrated off to the side with his former teammates. Here’s some awkward footage of the Minnesota Viking just walking around.
- How about this defense? I certainly can’t figure it out. After every miserable Minnesota drive in the first half, defensive coordinator John Butler, visibly frustrated, would try to scheme something up on a whiteboard, but it didn’t seem to work. And then, out of nowhere, the squad comes out in the second half and puts a zero up the board. There was just no rhyme or reason to it but I’m certainly not used to our offense losing games this season.
- Minnesota converted 9-17 on third down and 3-3 on fourth down; Penn State, a meager 1-9 on third and 1-3 on fourth. That was the difference. It seemed like Minnesota had someone wide open every third down attempt in the first half.
- At this point, we all just need to face the reality of a 6-6 season with a win over Purdue this weekend. That mush should be a given. An upset against either Nebraska or Wisconsin is the unlikely ceiling we should be aiming for.
See you next week after the Purdue game. That should be a *crazy* atmosphere…