Penn State (5-3, 2-2) vs. Minnesota (7-2, 3-2)
When: Noon, Saturday
Where: TCF Bank Stadium, Minneapolis
Series: Penn State leads 8-4
Last meeting: Penn State won 33-21 in 2010
Coaches: Minnesota — Jerry Kill, third season, 16-18 (143-91 overall); Penn State — Bill O’Brien, second season, 13-7 overall.
Television: ESPN2 (commentators: Beth Mowins, Joey Galloway, Paul Carcaterra)
Radio: WQWK 1450, WBUS 93.7 (Announcers: Steve Jones, Jack Ham)
The skinny: Minnesota is looking to continue its ascent up the Big Ten ladder. Winners of three straight, the Golden Gophers will try to keep Penn State at bay as the Nittany Lions are looking to turn around their recent road struggles and establish some consistency. Penn State has been outscored 107-38 in losses at Indiana and Ohio State, and will try to win back-to-back games for just the second time this season. Penn State hasn’t followed a win with a win since Week 2. After facing teams with mobile quarterbacks that did damage on the run in five of the last six games, Penn State will be tasked with stopping a traditional running offense as the Gophers like to pound the ball on the ground. The Governor’s Victory Bell is on the line in this game that features a talented pair of defensive tackles in Penn State’s DaQuan Jones and Minnesota’s Ra’Shede Hageman who are likely on their way to the NFL in the spring.
Golden Gopher player to watch: Hageman has demanded extra attention and as freed up space for defensive linemate Theiren Cockran. The redshirt sophomore defensive end has taken advantage. Cockran leads the Gophers with 51/2 sacks and is second to Hageman with eight tackles for loss. His three forced fumbles also lead the team. He’s a dangerous pass rusher with the ability to change the game with a devastating sack. He must be blocked.
Nittany Lion to watch: Jones has been playing through a shoulder injury and has slowed down a bit after a big start to his senior campaign. The Nittany Lions need their stalwart defensive tackle to step up and clog up the middle on Saturday as the running game is the Gophers’ bread and butter. If Jones can lead the way clogging gaps, it could be a long afternoon for the Minnesota offense that averages a mediocre 145 yards per game through the air.
Key matchup: The Penn State running game has taken a front seat to the aerial attack over the last three games and must continue to make progress against a Minnesota defense that has been suspect against the run. Bill Belton was spectacular against Illinois as the Nittany Lion offensive line was aggressive and physical. The Gophers use the same formula and have controlled the pace of their last three games by grinding out rushing yardage and keeping the clock going. Meanwhile, they’re possessing the ball for 61/2 minutes more per game than their opponents. If Penn State can use some of Minnesota’s own strength against the Gophers and control the clock in what figures to be a game that will be decided by possession time, the Nittany Lions have a good chance of coming out of Minnesota with a victory. If Minnesota gets its run game going, look out.