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Penn State Football’s Secondary Struggles In 31-26 Defeat To Minnesota

No. 4 Penn State football’s (8-1, 5-1 Big Ten) secondary was, in a word, exposed in the heartbreaking 31-26 loss to No. 17 Minnesota (9-0, 6-0 Big Ten) Saturday.

Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan picked apart Nittany Lion defensive backs throughout Saturday’s game, especially in the first half. The redshirt sophomore threw all three of his touchdowns within the first 30 minutes, and finished with 339 total yards through the air, the second-best performance on the season for him.

Morgan’s first touchdown pass came on a pretty 66-yard throw to Rashod Bateman on Minnesota’s opening drive. James Franklin discussed the score during his opening remarks at his post-game press conference.

“That was the first touchdown we’ve allowed in the first quarter all season,” Franklin said. “It felt like offensively they were able to get in rhythm. They were able to be very efficient and stay on schedule. The game played out the way they wanted it to play out.”

Efficiency was certainly the name of the game for PJ Fleck’s offense. Morgan only threw two incompletions on the day for a completion percentage of 90%, and the Gophers had two receivers to finish with more than 100 receiving yards — Rashod Bateman and Tyler Johnson. Bateman finished with a massive seven catches for 203 yards, while Johnson also had seven grabs for 104 yards. The talented pair each had a touchdown as well.

The Nittany Lions clearly had blown coverages throughout the game, many of them coming on important 3rd and long plays where Brent Pry’s unit needed to get off the field. Franklin credited Minnesota’s solid play calling as a reason for Penn State’s coverage struggles.

“They were going with the RPO, which we know they do,” Franklin said. “They were able to throw the slant off the backside. That’s what they do, they do a great job at it.”

The head coach went on to discuss how his defense was forced to commit to stopping the run throughout the game, which forced the defensive backs into one-on-one battles with Minnesota’s talented receivers. Bateman leads the Gophers with 644 receiving yards on the year, while Johnson sits at a close second with 626 of his own. The pair have combined for an impressive 13 touchdowns through just nine games.

While it may have seemed that the defensive line’s lack of pressure on Morgan made it easy for him to find open receivers, Franklin assured that Minnesota’s offensive style didn’t allow for any of the Wild Dogs time to get to him.

“They very rarely threw the ball in a traditional [way],” Franklin said. “They weren’t dropping back and throwing the ball. I have to go back and look at the tape, but I bet you out of all of [Morgan]’s throws, 75% of them were RPO’s, one-man read ball coming out. You don’t get sacks on those.”

Despite an ugly first half, Penn State’s secondary did start to get comfortable in the second half. The Gophers had just one touchdown in the final 30 minutes and Morgan was limited to 100 passing yards. Although they slowed the Gophers down, the Nittany Lion’s ugly performance through the first 30 minutes of Saturday’s contest proved too much to overcome.

While there’s clearly plenty to review, Franklin made it clear that now is not yet the time to do so.

“I’ve made some mistakes where I go in the locker room after tough losses and point out the mistakes. It’s not the time for that,” Franklin said. “The emotions are raw. The feelings are raw. There’s a lot of hurting guys in there.”

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About the Author

Will Pegler

Will is a senior majoring in digital and print journalism and is an associate editor for Onward State. He is from Darien, Connecticut and is a lifelong Penn State football fan. He loves a good 80's comedy movie, Peaky Blinders, 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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