Penn State football: Nittany Lions’ offense stalls as Minnesota wins 4th straight

tjohnson@centredaily.comNovember 9, 2013 

— A disappearing act is tough to follow.

How about a second one?

After Penn State’s offense failed to put points on the scoreboard in the second half, despite a strong second effort from the Nittany Lion defense,Penn State coaches and players quickly made haste back to Pennsylvania after dropping a 24-10 decision to Minnesota on Saturday.

Head coach Bill O’Brien spoke for his team. Players weren’t available. The silence was deafening as team personnel carried gear and equipment bags through the tunnel and toward the team’s big rig.

“I think our guys played with great effort,” O’Brien said. “I don’t have any problem with the way they played. I told them in the locker room, number one, we’re going to coach them better. I said, ‘We’re going to make sure we put you guys in better positions to make plays.’ I said, ‘Number two, we’re going to make sure that we do everything we can as a coaching staff to help these seniors go out as winners.”

O’Brien said he’d keep No. 3 between he and his players.

Minnesota (8-2, 4-2) kept Penn State’s offense out of the end zone when it mattered most — when the Gophers’ hard-charging, run-heavy offense bogged down over the final two quarters thanks to a second-half turnaround from Penn State’s defense.

The Gophers, who turned a Penn State fumble on the first play of the game into a field goal and finished three drives of 70-yards or more with touchdowns in the first half, ran into heavier opposition over the final two quarters.

After Minnesota running back David Cobb and quarterback Philip Nelson trotted in for one- and six-yard touchdown runs to finish 15- and 13-play drives, tight end Maxx Williams added Minnesota’s final score with 2:54 to play in the first half.

Nelson found Williams running wide open for a 24-yard touchdown to convert a third-and-10. It gave the Gophers a 24-10 lead and cut off Penn State’s momentum after a six-yard touchdown run from Penn State’s Zach Zwinak and a 27-yard field goal from Sam Ficken had cut Minnesota’s lead to just a touchdown.

Williams’ catch was one of nine third-down conversions for the Gophers on a chilly afternoon where winds whipped through TCF Bank Stadium up to 31 miles per hour.

The Gophers also connected on three fourth-down conversions. A fourth-and-two went for 24 yards from Nelson to Williams to set up Minnesota's first touchdown. A fourth-and-eight pass went for Donovahn Jones for 11 to help steer the Gophers to their second.

“I was a little nervous when that ball got in the air and the wind kind of got a hold of it,” Williams said of his touchdown catch. “I kind of had to track it down a little bit, almost tripped but I was able to make the play.”

Penn State (5-4, 2-3) could not.

As the Nittany Lion defense tightened up, the offense stalled over and over in the second half. Three turnovers – two of them in the red zone in the fourth quarter — doomed Penn State’s comeback bid.

The defense tried to keep it alive.

Mike Hull, who went down midway through the first quarter with an apparent leg injury, returned just three plays later. He started the second half with a tackle for a loss to help set a tone that his defensive teammates would carry through the second half.

After giving up 241 yards and falling victim to seven of 10 third-down conversions from Minnesota in the first half, Penn State’s defense allowed 140 yards, forced a fumble and five punts in the second.

“I thought the defense they came out and played well in the second half, made some good adjustments at halftime and did a nice job,” O’Brien said. “Offensively we didn’t pick up our end of the bargain on that in the second half so that’s disappointing.”

Hull led Penn State with nine tackles and after Malcolm Willis picked up a Minnesota fumble that C.J. Olaniyan forced, the Penn State offense ran three plays and went nowhere before punting.

Penn State followed that with a 14-play drive that ended with a turnover on down at Minnesota’s 38-yard line.

The two red zone turnovers followed. After seven plays for 72 yards set Penn State’s offense up at Minnesota’s 16-yard line, four-straight incomplete passes gave Minnesota the ball back with 9:31 to play.

Another defensive stop went for naught as Penn State drove 59 yards before quarterback Christian Hackenberg fumbled the snap at Minnesota’s two-yard line. The Gophers recovered and ran out the clock with a 12-play drive to midfield.

“We couldn’t make any plays down in the red area,” O’Brien said. “That’s what it came down to. We just didn’t score the touchdowns.”

O’Brien, who has always preached the importance of complimentary football, was blunt after the game.

“Not very good,” he said. “Uncomplimentary.”

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