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Previewing The Enemy: Minnesota Golden Gophers

After a disastrous trip to Ann Arbor, No. 16 Penn State football (5-1, 2-1 Big Ten) is in the loss column.

But, despite the Michigan loss, the Nittany Lions have an immediate chance to get back on track under White Out conditions this Saturday when Minnesota comes to town. It’ll be Penn State’s first matchup with the Golden Gophers since Tanner Morgan & Co. derailed its playoff hopes and evaporated its No. 4 ranking in 2019.

Although Morgan is still around, Minnesota’s lineup has changed quite a bit since waves of gold and maroon stormed Huntington Bank Stadium three years ago.

The Team

Despite rising to No. 21 in the AP Poll after a 4-0 start, Minnesota now finds itself at 4-2 after falling to Purdue and then-No. 24 Illinois. However, the Golden Gophers might be rolling into Happy Valley shorthanded after Morgan was carted off the field last game with a head injury.

P.J. Fleck is in his sixth season as head coach, leading Minnesota to three bowl berths and winning all three. The Golden Gophers tied for first place in the Big Ten West after a 2019 campaign that saw them finish No. 10 in the AP Poll.

Kirk Ciarrocca is in his fourth year as Minnesota’s offensive coordinator despite taking a brief hiatus to serve in the same role at Penn State during the 2020 season. His offense is leading the country in third-down conversion percentage this season.

Pennsylvania native Joe Rossi is the Gophers’ defensive coordinator and is leading a stout effort this season. Minnesota is allowing just 11.7 points per game, good for fourth-best in the country. Its third-down conversion allowance on defense is also the best in the country.

Rob Wenger is in his sixth year as special teams coordinator and kicker Matthew Trickett’s 85.7 field goal percentage leads the conference.

Offense

Before leaving the Illinois game with an apparent head injury, quarterback Tanner Morgan had a 156.4 quarterback efficiency rating, good for fifth-best in the conference. Morgan’s thrown for 1,164 yards and seven touchdowns at nearly a 67% clip.

True freshman Athan Kaliakmanis came in to relieve Morgan last week and is expected to be the starter if the veteran can’t go. He completed just two of his six passes after coming into the Illinois game, throwing two interceptions.

Tight end Brevyn Spann-Ford has been the go-to pass catcher for Minnesota. He’s racked up 252 yards and one touchdown on 18 receptions so far this season. His backup, Nick Kallerup, has a touchdown on two catches as well.

Michael Brown-Stephens leads the way for the receiver corps with 233 yards on 15 catches. Daniel Jackson leads the team in receiving touchdowns with two and has the longest reception of the season at 66 yards.

The Gophers’ offensive strong suit is in their rushing attack. Franklin identified running back Mohamed Ibrahim as a player to watch, as he has the fourth-most rushing yards per game in the nation with a whopping 138.8-yard average. He’s added nine scores as well.

His backup, Trey Potts, has found the end zone three times and surpassed 300 rushing yards this season. His 62 carries are second-most to Ibrahim’s 104.

Sixth-year center John Michael Schmitz is also a player to watch, as Franklin noted he’s landed on a plethora of award watch lists thus far. Minnesota has allowed just six sacks in 2022, second in the conference only to Ohio State.

Defense

Minnesota’s 11.7 points allowed per game makes it one of the most efficient defenses in the country.

Franklin noted linebacker Mariano Sori-Marin as a guy who jumped out to Penn State on film. He leads the team with 39 tackles but is yet to record a sack, as the team is tied for last in the conference with just nine this year. He has three tackles for loss.

Braelen Oliver and Cody Lindenberg round out the linebacker corps with the former recording 24 tackles this year and the latter 19.

Defensive lineman Danny Striggow leads the team with four tackles for loss and three sacks. Kyler Baugh paces all linemen with 17 tackles. Franklin is watching out for defensive end Thomas Rush, who has 16 tackles and one sack this season.

Minnesota ranks fifth in the country in pass defense, allowing just 159.2 yards per game throw the air.

Jordan Howden leads the team with two interceptions while Terell Smith, Justin Walley, Tyler Nubin, and Striggow have one apiece. Franklin said Nubin and Walley stand out on tape.

Nubin leads the defensive backs with 28 tackles and has forced a fumble as well. Smith’s three passes defended are the most on the team, and he has added a sack and 17 tackles of his own.

Special Teams

Kicker Matt Trickett’s 85.7 kick percentage is the best in the country, although he’s only attempted seven field goals. He’s made all 27 extra points, and his longest kick of the year was 46 yards. Dragan Kesich handles kickoff duties and is 33-for-38 on touchbacks.

Mark Crawford is the punter, and he has landed four of his 12 punts inside the 20-yard line. He has one touchback and is averaging just south of 40 yards per punt.

Quentin Redding handles return duties and has a season-long kick return of 92 yards. He averages 6.83 yards per punt return.

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About the Author

Ryan Parsons

Ryan is a redshirt senior majoring in business and journalism from "Philadelphia" and mostly writes about football nowadays. You can follow him on Twitter @rjparsons9 or say hi via email at [email protected]

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