Limegrover Helping Prepare Nittany Lions For Old Team Minnesota
The last time Penn State played Minnesota, Christian Hackenberg was a freshman, Jim Harbaugh and Lovie Smith were both in the NFL, and current Penn State offensive line coach Matt Limegrover held the same position for the Golden Gophers, in addition to serving as the team’s offensive coordinator. Three years removed from the Nittany Lions’ 24-10 loss to the Gophers, Hackenberg is in the NFL, both Harbaugh and Smith coach in the Big Ten, and Limegrover will stand on the opposite sideline on Saturday when Penn State meets Minnesota, hoping that his offensive line can provide Trace McSorley the same protection that his unit in 2013 gave to Philip Nelson, who has since transferred to Eastern Carolina.
Last November, Minnesota fired Limegrover following an underwhelming start to the season. This past January, James Franklin hired the western Pennsylvania native lifelong Penn State fan to be his offensive line coach.
The time spent as offensive coordinator was beneficial in the experience he gained as a coach of higher authority. That time could potentially benefit the Nittany Lions on Saturday, considering how familiar Limegrover is with his former offensive weapons.
“It does help you when you have Matt [Limegrover] who knows [the Gophers’] personnel and their coaches really well and he can tell you what the strengths and weaknesses are,” Franklin said. “He can give us an idea of what their philosophy is and how they approach things normally and maybe we gain an advantage there.”
One weapon in particular who Limegrover has helped the Nittany Lions prepare for is his former quarterback, Mitch Leidner, who has 58 total touchdowns in his four years starting for the Gophers.
He’s experienced, and experience at that position is important, and the fact that not only has he been an efficient thrower, but the thing he probably does the best according to Matt [Limegrover] is throw the deep ball,” Franklin said. “He throws the deep ball very well, which kind of goes hand in hand with their run game and their play action pass. I think the thing that differentiates him a little bit is 25 rushing touchdowns.
“He’s a big, strong quarterback who’s willing to run, and that keeps you honest. It adds another dimension to your offense and makes him difficult to defend.”
While Limegrover can provide some insight to the Penn State defense, he’ll have his hands full in preparing his linemen for the Gophers’ pass rush.
A physical unit with five linemen in their two-deep depth chart weighing at least 275 pounds, Minnesota’s defense has nine sacks and 29 tackles this season and will pose a challenge to the shaky Penn State offensive line for the second week in a row.
This year’s line appears to be as much of a weakness as it was last year for the Nittany Lions, having allowed twelve and eleven sacks in the first four games in each of the last two years, respectively. That protection, or lack thereof, has been a determining factor in games for the Penn State thus far in 2016. Ten of the eleven sacks allowed this season have come in Penn State’s two losses, including six this past weekend alone against Michigan’s smothering pass rush.
With the challenges that lie ahead of the Nittany Lions in Big Ten play, with top tier defenses such as Ohio State and Iowa left on the schedule after Saturday’s game against Minnesota, there remains ample room for improvements for Limegrover to make. On Saturday though, he’ll have an opportunity to make an additional impact against his former employer and hopefully once again find himself in the locker room with the Governor’s Victory Bell after the game.