When and where: November 9, 2019, TCF Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, MN, 12:00 PM ET
A Big Ten Conference showdown for the ages takes place at TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday in a battle of the unbeatens, when the Penn State Nittany Lions take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers. An opportunity to face one of the best defenses in the country will reveal whether the Golden Gophers are contenders or pretenders. They are coming off a decisively lopsided 52-10 victory over Maryland, while the Nittany Lions have taken out Michigan State, Michigan and Iowa in their last three outings.
Run defense is key for Penn StateThere’s no need in dancing around the obvious with cutesy words. So I’m going to get right to the point: Saturday’s game will be won or lost in the trenches.
Watching the Nittany Lions dismantle Michigan State’s rushing attack and turn them one-dimensional was basically a preview of what they’re going to try to do against a Golden Gopher offense averaging 204.5 rushing yards per game. Running the football is the lifeblood of their offense, and if Penn State is going to have success, they’ll have to put a stop to it.
Of course, that means linebackers Micah Parsons and Cam Brown setting the tone early in the game with good tackling and not getting caught out of position. Running backs Rodney Smith and Mohamed Ibrahim complete the thunder and lightning combo in the Minnesota backfield, but they’ll be running into the No. 1 rushing defense in the conference when Penn State comes to town.
On the other side of the ball, Penn State will clearly be the best offense Minnesota has faced this season. Quarterback Sean Clifford has thrown for 1,931 yards, 20 touchdowns and only three interceptions with a 62 percent completion percentage. He should be able to test Minnesota’s secondary after getting the running game rolling with a deep stable of backs. The Golden Gophers haven’t had nearly as much success slowing down the rushing attack as they have against the pass.
Head coach James Franklin has done an outstanding job of getting the program back on track. He owns a 53-21 record with the Nittany Lions, which is darn good considering where they were after the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse saga.
"To be honest with you, I don't know if it's talked about enough, in my opinion, to think about how far we have come in the last eight years. It's remarkable. To me, it's not talked about enough," Franklin stated on gopsusports.com. "It's interesting, as we went out and did some trips this summer, went and visited some people, and even our own people, you kind of sit down and you say, you know, bullet point one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10, of what we have been able to do in the last six years and what we have been able to do specifically in the last three years and people are like, I wouldn't have known that if you didn't tell me. So, we probably could do a little bit better job of that. We've got a pretty amazing story that we should be very proud of, but again, all that stuff is wonderful, and we'd better go 1-0 on Saturday."
Are the Golden Gophers for real?The Golden Gophers have racked up an undefeated record in a season where they have basically missed out on facing legitimate opposition—until now. Saturday’s game against Penn State will be the deciding factor of whether or not the hype is real. Sure, we’ve seen the Golden Gophers beat up on a bad Maryland team, but can they stand toe-to-toe with a legitimate contender for a spot in the playoffs?
Minnesota has held their last three opponents to no more than 10 points, and they are averaging 38.4 points per game on offense. Call Smith the lawnmower man for the Golden Gophers considering he chews up the most grass for their offense. His ability to break through that brick wall of a defensive front for Penn State is the only way any magic happens on Saturday. Not only does Penn State have the top rushing defense in the conference, but they also have the third-most sacks, which could mean big problems for starting quarterback Tanner Morgan.
Minnesota has merely been okay on defense despite playing against some less than stellar opposition. They don’t have much of a rushing attack, and Penn State does a good job of protecting Clifford. This game might get ugly if the Golden Gophers can’t figure out ways to dial up pressure on the quarterback. Clifford has the Nittany Lions sitting at third in the conference in passing offense, which should present an interesting test for a Minnesota defense allowing only 166.4 passing yards per game.
The Golden Gopher defense could be without leading tackler Kamal Martin, who continues to work his way back from a right knee injury.
The top supporting trends for this game, found on Covers.com, are:
- Nittany Lions are 19-7-2 ATS against a team with a winning record.
- Nittany Lions are 10-4-1 ATS in their last 15 games after allowing less than 100 yards rushing in their previous game.
- Nittany Lions are 10-4-1 ATS in their last 15 games after allowing less than 275 total yards in their previous game.
- Nittany Lions are 17-7-1 ATS in their last 25 games after allowing less than 20 points in their previous game.
- Golden Gophers are 1-4-2 ATS in the last 7 head-to-head meetings.