The Penn State Nittany Lions head to Minneapolis this weekend to square off against the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Penn State is ranked No. 5 in the nation in the latest AP poll heading into the contest, while Minnesota is ranked 13th. Both teams are undefeated this season, and both lead their halves of the Big Ten, with Penn State tied with Ohio State in the Big Ten East, while Minnesota has a two-game lead in the Big Ten West.
The game marks the first time that Minnesota head coach PJ Fleck has faced the Nittany Lions. Penn State head coach James Franklin is 1-0 against Minnesota during his time in Happy Valley. It’s Franklin’s sixth year at Penn State, while Fleck has been in Minneapolis for only three seasons. Penn State is favored in the matchup by 6.5 points, and the over/under is set at 47.5.
Penn State looks to keep pace with fellow Big Ten undefeated team, Ohio State, and will have to in order to stay in at least a tie in the Big Ten East. Sophomore and first-year starter Sean Clifford aims to keep his great season going on Saturday. He enters the contest with a .620 completion percentage and is coming off a nice performance against Michigan State. While Clifford only threw for 189 yards in the game, he also threw for four touchdowns and only one interception. He’s thrown 20 touchdowns on the season to only three picks.
Penn State ranks ninth in the nation in total defense this season, but it ranks fourth in yards per play, coming in at 3.98. The Lions have only allowed opposing offenses to get in the end zone nine times this season, tying them with Iowa for second in all the land. Opponents are, however, able to convert third downs against the defense at a slightly higher clip. They are ranked 15th, allowing opponents to convert about 30 percent of the time.
A Golden Opportunity
Minnesota comes into the game ranked 13th in all of college football, led by starting quarterback Tanner Morgan. Morgan has racked up 1,761 yards so far, throwing 18 touchdowns to only four interceptions, very similar to his counterpart for Penn State. Although he is coming off of a couple of tough outings against two pretty soft defenses in Rutgers and Maryland, Morgan looks to get back on track this Saturday.
Minnesota doesn’t spread the ball out a lot, as it likes to keep it in the hands of its playmakers. Big-time wideout Rashod Bateman has put 644 yards up this season, averaging nearly 21 yards per catch. Fourth-year starter Tyler Johnson leads the team in receptions and touchdowns, with 43 grabs and seven TDs on the season. Running back Rodney Smith looks to make it his sixth straight 100-yard rushing performance. The Gophers’ rushing attack ranks 31st in the nation, while Penn State doesn’t crack the top 50.
Defending and Winning
From the outside eye, it looks like this game may come down to defense. Both teams are ranked in the top 15 in total defense. Penn State sits ninth, while the Gophers’ D sits at 13th. Oddly, the edge on defense may come down to the opposition’s offense. Minnesota actually ranks in the top 50 in total offense, coming in at 47.
At the same time, it’s best not to try and overthink this matchup. On paper, these two teams are similar and match up pretty well. Looking at the schedule, it seems that Minnesota has had it easy this season. Penn State will be its first ranked opponent, while the Nittany Lions have beaten 14th-ranked Michigan and 18th-ranked Iowa before blowing out the Spartans. The pick here is the Nittany Lions to win and cover. Minnesota just hasn’t been tested enough this season for me to trust either side of the ball. Lay it all down on Penn State.