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No. 4 Penn State Football Falls 31-26 To No. 17 Minnesota In Heartbreaker

No. 4 Penn State football (8-1, 5-1 Big Ten) was defeated by No. 17 Minnesota (9-0, 6-0 Big Ten) 31-26 despite a strong second half comeback effort at TCF Bank Stadium Saturday.

Penn State’s defense could do little to slow down Tanner Morgan and the rest of the Gophers’ offense. The quarterback finished his day with 339 yards through the air for three touchdowns, while Rashod Bateman led all receivers with 203 receiving yards. Ricky Rahne’s offense simply couldn’t keep up with the Gophers, as the unit struggled to convert on several scoring opportunities. Sean Clifford finished his day with three interceptions.

How It Happened

The Nittany Lions received the opening kick but turned the ball over to Minnesota on their third play from scrimmage thanks to an Antoine Winfield Jr. interception. The Gophers wasted no time to capitalize, as Tanner Morgan found Rashod Bateman for a 66-yard touchdown and took a 7-0 lead.

Sean Clifford and Co. bounced back on the next possession, as the unit found the end zone on a just a four-play, 69-yard drive. Journey Brown capped it off with a 45-yard touchdown rush and Penn State tied the game at 7-7 with 10:47 remaining in the first quarter.

Minnesota quickly struck back with a Chris Autman-Bell 21-yard touchdown reception on a screen pass to take a 14-7 lead. Another big carry from Brown helped Penn State drive in to Gopher’s territory on the ensuing possession, but the Nittany Lions couldn’t punch it into the end zone. A 33-yard field goal from Jake Pinegar made it a 14-10 Minnesota lead with 2:12 remaining in the first.

Brent Pry’s defense finally got a stop to open the second quarter. The Penn State offense responded with a strong 10-play, 69-yard drive, but it was cut short by yet another interception by Winfield Jr. The Gophers capitalized with another quick score, as Morgan hit Tyler Johnson for a 38-yard touchdown pass. Minnesota led 21-10 about halfway through the second.

Penn State bent but didn’t break on the Gophers’ next possession, as it held them to a 26-yard field goal. Clifford then led the Nittany Lions on a huge 71-yard drive to close out the first half, but once again couldn’t score a touchdown inside the red zone. Pinegar hit the 21-yard field goal and Penn State took a 24-13 deficit into the locker room.

Both squads exchanged defensive stops to open the second half. Pry’s unit came up with the first big play of the third quarter though, as Keaton Ellis and Lamont Wade forced a fumble that Shaka Toney recovered.

The Nittany Lions followed that with a 50-yard drive that was capped off with a Nick Bowers touchdown reception in the red zone. James Franklin elected to go for two but failed to convert, and Penn State trailed 24-19 with 4:05 to play in the third quarter.

PJ Fleck’s squad responded with a long drive of its own — thanks to several big receptions from Bateman — and opened the fourth quarter with a two-yard touchdown rush for Seth Green. Minnesota led 31-19 with 14:11 left in the game.

Penn State once again drove deep into Minnesota territory on its next possession, but the offense stalled out inside the Gophers’ 10-yard line and failed to convert a score on 4th down. Minnesota orchestrated a 4:21 drive off of the turnover on downs, and Penn State was left just over six minutes to make up a 12-point deficit.

The Nittany Lions showed life on their next drive. Brown scored his second touchdown of the day on a six-yard rush to cap off a 64-yard drive. Despite the score, Clifford was injured after he handed the ball off to Brown. Penn State trailed 31-26 with 3:49 left in the game. Pry’s defense forced a three-and-out on the Gophers’ next possession, and the Nittany Lion offense was given the ball with zero timeouts and 2:40 remaining.

Clifford led Penn State on an impressive 47-yard drive into Gopher territory, but Jordan Howden picked off the redshirt sophomore to put the game away. Minnesota kneeled out the rest of the game for the victory.

Takeaways

  • Minnesota’s offensive line was dominant throughout the day. The Nittany Lions failed to force any negative plays until the third quarter of Saturday’s game. A normally productive Wild Dogs unit could do little to stifle Tanner Morgan throughout much of the game.
  • Aside from a fairly clean pocket for the quarterback, the key for Minnesota’s offense was a struggling Penn State secondary. The Gophers made several huge pass completions on third-and-long situations, and Rashod Bateman finished with an astonishing seven catches worth 203 yards. Tyler Johnson also had a massive day with seven catches worth 104 yards. Both of those receivers scored touchdowns.
  • Penn State nearly was a second-half team once again, but failure to convert on several scoring opportunities was too much to overcome. The Nittany Lions struggled to finish off several of their drives when getting into Minnesota territory, especially on Clifford’s third interception of the day to close out the game.

What’s Next

Penn State will head home to take on Indiana at Beaver Stadium next Saturday. Kickoff time and television coverage is still to be determined.

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About the Author

Will Pegler

Will is a sophomore majoring in journalism and is Onward State's assistant sports editor. He is from Darien, Connecticut and is a lifelong Penn State football fan. He loves a good 80's comedy movie, The Office, and the New York Yankees and Giants. You can catch some of his ridiculous sports takes on his Twitter @gritdude and yell at him on his email [email protected]

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