Penn State Football

No. 17 Minnesota stuns No. 4 Penn State 31-26 in program-defining win

Two undefeated teams entered TCF Bank Stadium on Saturday, but only Minnesota left with its perfect record intact.

The No. 17 Golden Gophers shocked the No. 4 Penn State Nittany Lions 31-26 Saturday afternoon, as the crowd rushed the field to celebrate one of the program’s biggest victories.

Penn State had a chance to win it at the end but came up short. With less than a minute left, just 10 yards shy of the end zone, quarterback Sean Clifford tossed an 8-yard completion to running back Journey Brown — but wideout Daniel George was flagged for offensive pass interference.

That pushed the Nittany Lions back to the 25-yard line. And, two plays later, Clifford tossed his third interception of the day to end it.

With the win, Minnesota improves to 9-0 on the season and is sure to surge in the polls. Penn State falls to 8-1 on the year with the loss.

Player(s) of the game

Minnesota QB Tanner Morgan & Minnesota WR Rashod Bateman: It’s impossible to separate these two performances, and both could very well end up sharing Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week.

Bateman set a stadium record with seven catches for 203 yards and a touchdown, while Morgan was nearly perfect on 18-of-20 passing for 339 yards and three touchdowns.

The Nittany Lions’ secondary looked lost multiple times Saturday afternoon, and they never found an answer for Morgan or Bateman. Coming into Saturday’s game, Penn State hadn’t allowed a passer to throw for more than a single TD pass in a game all season, they had permitted just one 300-yard passer all year, and they were statistically a top-10 defense.

Give a lot of credit to Morgan and Bateman. Penn State didn’t play well, but that pair didn’t make a mistake. Bateman flashed his hands and athleticism, and Morgan was consistently accurate. Few teams would beat Minnesota when its passing offense plays like that. Morgan and Bateman put on a clinic.

Play of the game

Minnesota WR Chris Autman-Bell’s first-quarter TD: Penn State fans, cover your eyes. You’re not going to want to see this one again.

With 4:39 left in the first quarter, on third-and-3, Tanner Morgan tossed a quick screen to 6-foot-1 Autman-Bell — who then then cut up the middle of the field, bounced left, broke a tackle and avoided three other would-be tacklers. That play gave Minnesota the 14-7 advantage, one it wouldn’t relinquish.

Autman-Bell made the entire Penn State defense look silly. It was an uncharacteristic play for the Nittany Lions — and an impressive one for Autman-Bell.

Controversial play-call

Penn State’s decision to spike, instead of call a timeout, at the end of the first half: Yes, we know you’re shocked to find out that James Franklin was guilty of some clock mismanagement.

After a gutsy fourth-down conversion late in the first half, Penn State continued driving and then tossed a 20-yard completion to tight end Pat Freiermuth to set up first-and-goal at the 7-yard line. About 18 seconds remained and, rather than call his final timeout, Franklin instead opted to spike the ball — costing PSU another shot at the end zone.

An incompletion and 4-yard run then set up fourth-and-3, and Penn State settled for the field goal. The Nittany Lions went into halftime with a 24-13 deficit.

In that situation, most coaches would call the timeout first and simply throw it in the end zone. A touchdown could’ve given Penn State some much-needed momentum heading into the half; instead, it came away with three points as opposed to seven.

Up next

Vs. Indiana: No. 4 Penn State (8-1) will take on the Indiana Hoosiers (7-2) at noon next Saturday at Beaver Stadium in Happy Valley.

The Hoosiers were on bye this past week and are just outside of the AP Top 25. Right now, they’re receiving the third-most votes of teams not in the poll — and could be ranked Sunday.

According to Bill Connelly’s SP+ rankings, which measure college football efficiency, Indiana boasts the nation’s No. 16 offense, No. 36 defense and No. 8 special teams. Penn State will clearly be favored, but the Hoosiers are no push-overs.

Indiana’s two losses this season came in a 51-10 defeat to Ohio State and a 40-31 shootout to Michigan State.

Josh Moyer earned his B.A. in journalism from Penn State and his M.S. from Columbia. He’s been involved in sports and news writing for nearly 20 years. He counts the best athlete he’s ever seen as Tecmo Super Bowl’s Bo Jackson.