While Minnesota now technically leads the series against the Nittany Lions 4-3, Penn State leads 8-4 and has won four straight when you include the games now vacated due to the Jerry Sandusky scandal at PSU. This year's meeting is the first that will go in the record books since the Gophers won 16-7 in 2004. The last time the two teams faced off on the field however was a 33-21 Penn State Victory.
The Nittany Lion Offense:
While Bill O'Brien has yet to name a starter at QB, the Gophers will have their work cut out for them trying to slow them down despite the scholarship limits Penn State is facing. The two guys competing for the starting job are Sophomore JuCo transfer Tyler Ferguson and true freshman Christian Hackenberg who was Scout's #2 QB last year. Ferguson had a leg up headed into fall camp as he was there in the spring but Hackenberg has a ton of talent. Regardless of who winds up the starter at QB, they will have a 1,000 yard rusher to hand the ball off to in junior Zach Zwinak who had exactly 1,000 yards rushing last year. Behind Zwinak are Bill Belton and Akeel Lynch. Belton has some starting experience, but was hurt for a few games last season and Lynch redshirted last year. Not only will whoever ends up starting at QB have Zwinak to hand the ball off, but they'll also have some experienced weapons to throw to, something that was lacking last year as they lost their top 7. The tight ends will be a big part of the offense as well and they've got some big guys at that position. The Nittany Lions do lose a couple of starters on the offensive line including 1st Team All Big Ten Center Matt Stankiewitch. Despite those losses the unit is more experienced than they were last year when they allowed just 21 sacks (47th Nationally) and rushing for 144 yards/game (85th nationally) also despite the loss of Silas Redd before the start of the year and numerous injuries to RB's throughout the season.
The Nittany Lion Defense:
Last year the Penn State defense line performed quite well. They led the Big Ten in sacks (34 which was good for 25th nationally) and were fourth in the Big Ten in Rushing Defense (128 yards allowed per game which was good for 24th Nationally). This year they lose two starters and two key backups but should be solid, though young once again. The strength of Penn State's defense has traditionally been at linebacker and that was the case last year as they had two linebackers drafted by the Minnesota Vikings including a 1st Team All American. They also lose a key backup and while they will be talented this year, they will likely see a drop off in production after losing two draft picks. Behind the Linebackers is a secondary unit that returns 3 starters and lost just one backup. Last year they performed quite well (51st nationally in passing defense) considering their lack of depth (started with just 6 scholarship DB's). While this unit is stronger this season, they will likely see a fairly decent drop in production since the front seven will be weaker for the Nittany Lions this year.
3 Keys to the Game:
1. Make the Nittany Lions offense one dimensional. If the Gophers can shut down either the rushing game or the passing game early, they'll have a better chance at making the necessary adjustments late in the game when it will quite possibly be tight.
2. Run the ball effectively. Penn State is young and a little small up front (at least by PSU standards). If the Gophers come into this game healthy they should be able to run the ball fairly effectively.
3. Don't turn the ball over. Penn State's defense will be fairly stout this year and the Gophers will likely need every chance they can get to put enough points on the board to make it a close game. Not only that, but the Penn State offense will be pretty good as well and the Gopher's can't afford to give them any extra chances if they want to regain the Victory Bell.
Despite the sanctions that Penn State is facing, they are still a very talented team, they just lack depth. The lack of depth and the late season match-up should give the Gophers a chance but I think Penn State's talent will still be too much for the Gophers and Penn State will win the Victory Bell. Penn State 31 Minnesota 17
Brice Marich also contributed to this report