Download the full FOS Blitz gameday guide at the link below, or simply read Nirav and Mark's game preview below.
ND: After a much needed off week, Penn State hits the gridiron with a matchup against the struggling Golden Gophers. While many question the leadership of the Penn State squad, the folks in Minneapolis are looking for a leader. Coach Tim Brewster was shown the door after getting pounded by Purdue and the Gophers will now rely on interim coach Jeff Horton. This will be the Lions first visit to the state-of-the-art TCF Bank Stadium. We'll see if they are able to cash in an easy opponent after the last two beatings.
MH: Penn States' bye came at the right time as the team has been battered with injuries. The good news is that guys have returned to practice recently like Mike Mauti, Gerald Hodges and Bani Gbadyu for the linebackers. The bad news is that players like Jack Crawford and Eric Latimore are still out not to mention the guys lost for the remainder of the year like Nick Sukay and Lou Eliades. Minnesota has sacked their head coach, so how the Gophers respond is an unknown at this point.
Who: Penn State and Minnesota
When: October 23th at 12pm ET and 9am PT
Where: TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, MN
Series: Penn State leads 7-4
Line: Penn State favored by 9.5
Other Big Games This Weekend:
ND: There's a big game down in the SEC this weekend with Auburn facing Les Miles' LSU squad. Auburn is off to a fast start and their offense is lighting up the scoreboard behind the throwing and running of Heisman contender, Cameron Newton. Meanwhile, LSU might be the worst undefeated team this year. Every win has come by the skin of their nose and they Jordan Jefferson is not scaring anyone with his ability to throw the football. I look for Auburn to win in big, dramatic fashion. Unfortunately, I think Auburn could very well end the season undefeated and be outside of the national championship game because they were ranked so low to start the season while TCU and Boise State started out pretty high. Granted, the SEC is not that strong this year but imagine an undefeated SEC team not in the national championship? It could happen.
MH: Also, watch No. 16 Nebraska as the head to No. 14 Oklahoma State. The Huskers got shocked by the Longhorns and the Cowboys will be more than happy to continue Nebraska's decent after they bailed on the Big 12. Plus, new No. 1 Oklahoma has to head to No. 11 Missouri. We've seen back-to-back No. 1 knockoffs with Alabama and Ohio State. We'll see if the Tigers can continue the streak with a win over the Sooners.
ND: Mark, I'm not going to say that it's going to be an upset but I think Missouri is really going to do quite well against Oklahoma. The Tigers are playing awfully good defense yielding only 10.9 points per game. The competition hasn't been overly difficult but I think they will be able hang with the balanced offense of the Sooners. Since the game is in Columbia and at night, I think this game could come right down to the wire. In my eyes, it all comes down to how well the Sooners can throw the football. Murray is going to be the main focus of the Tiger defense but if the Sooners can get the ball into the hands of Broyle, they will do well. But, they have to protect Landry Jones. The Sooner offensive line is very middle-of-the-road having given up 10 sacks already this year. This should be a close one.
MH: I am going to go out on a limb here by saying I think Northwestern gives Michigan State all it can handle. The Wildcats have played tough all season and although they just missed beating Purdue, they have an impressive passing attack. I may be relying a bit on history here since I am awaiting Michigan State's trademark mid-season implosion.
ND: As we often joke, the Penn State offense is offensive. Inability to run, inability to give Bolden time, inability to make catches when the ball is delivered properly and inability to get in the endzone. After a much needed bye week, we'll see what Penn State has done to improve the execution of the offense.
Bolden has done fairly well considering how much time he has spent on campus. But, it's now time to see his progression as a QB. I really think that the Lions need to use him in more running situations. It's good that he's looking to pass and stays committed to the pass but he also needs to recognize when he can get a 4 or 5 yard gain when his first couple of progressions are not available. But, in reality, what Bolden needs more than anything else is a receiving corp that is going to come up with some catches for him. Bolden was developing some chemistry with Justin Brown and Derek Moye has come through but there have been far too many dropped balls this season. The Lions have an opportunity this week to exploit one of the worst pass defenses in the country. And, the Gophers have only tallied 3 sacks this year. 3! This is the type of game that Bolden really needs. He should have time to set his feet, throw the ball and hopefully make some plays in the passing game. It's the intermediate passing game that the Lions need to develop rapidly if there is any hope for a bowl game this year.
Mark, this is also the type of opponent that the offensive line has needed to face to get some confidence in the running game. The Gophers stink – plain and simple. They are yielding an astounding 201 yards per game on the ground. Look for the Lions to pound the ball at the Gophers early and generate some ball control. The key for this offensive line is to get off the ball, make their blocks and then get to the second level. In the key games this year, they have not been able to get downfield to help extend runs. As a result, the linebackers and safeties have been able to make plays at the line of scrimmage. So, we'll see if the offensive line can come out with a nasty attitude and push these Gophers around. I look for Royster to get a bulk of the carries and for Green and Redd to split the residual carries. The offensive line is the key though. The Lions have a great stable of backs but they need the space to run.
I think the Lions are going to be able to move the football and should be able to score. But, this is still a road game and it's an early game (11 am in Minnesota) so look for the Lions to come out flat but pick it up in the second quarter.
MH: Well, Penn State got a much needed break with a bye last weekend. The staff gave the players added time off including a three-day weekend. There was some buzz last week as to the coaches opening up positions given the top-to-bottom struggles and FOS reported on a series of positions that were seeing battles, particularly along the offensive line. However, this week the coaches basically went back to the lineups they had against Illinois.
The offense has gotten extra work in within the red-zone, but they still need the offensive line to start opening holes to allow Evan Royster and company to get the ground game going to have a balanced attack. Granted Minnesota's defense is No. 76 nationally against the run giving up over 141 yards per game, but the PSU line needs show up and play in order to exploit that weakness.
The good news for the Nittany Lions is that Minnesota is No. 98, allowing 31.7 points per game; the bad news, as you mentioned, is that this is an early road game, which rarely bodes well for Penn State. However, Minnesota is reeling. Yet, we could see the Golden Gophs get inspired by the loss of their headman, but I am skeptical.
The wideouts have to stop dropping balls and help Bolden out, if nothing more than to boost his confidence. I'd love to see a heavy dose of Justin Brown and Derek Moye in this one and I expect that we will.
ND: Mark, many Penn State fans are thinking that the Minnesota game is a "gimme" because they have lost to teams like Northern Illinois and South Dakota and they really struggled against Middle Tennessee State. But, the issue with the Gophers is not offense. Well, not entirely. Minnesota has been able to move the football and they have been able to score. In fact, despite their 1-6 records, Minnesota has significantly outscored Penn State and their schedule may not have Iowa and Alabama but I'm not so sure that is the sole reason that Penn State hasn't scored either.
The Gophers go with a 2-headed backfield with Duane Bennett and DeLeon Eskridge. Combined, they are averaging just over 100 yards per year. The real difficulty that they are having is that the offensive line is not getting off of their blocks to make an impact. This is particularly key for the Lions. I think the Penn State defensive line will be able to occupy the Gopher offensive line. But, the real question mark is whether the Penn State linebackers will make their reads and attack the line of scrimmage. It appears that Fortt, Mauti, Gbadyu and Colasanti are all available to play this week. We'll see if Hodges gets out onto the field too. He's been practicing but is "rusty". The Gophers have struggled running and the more that Penn State can win the battle on first down, the more predictable this offense becomes.
Adam Weber returns as the QB for the Gophers. He is a 4-year starter and is pretty smart with the football. He has thrown 6 picks but he has also thrown 14 touchdowns. Weber really has been the one that is helping this team score through the air. He has very tall receivers that are able to create mismatch problems and they are doing a great job of spreading the ball out to their WRs and TE. Da'Jon McKnight has scored 6 TDs through the air and is the deep threat. But, keep an eye on TE Eric Lair. Lair is a pro-style TE with the ability to stretch the field and cause real problems with matchups. He's 6'3" and 238lbs and the kid can run. He's averaging 14.2 yards per catch and has 2 scores. Lair is going to cause Bradley some fits. The question is if the revamped safeties can stay with Lair or will Bradley drop the LBs off of the line of scrimmage leaving a large hole underneath. Pick your poison, Scrap.
I think this Minnesota offense is being characterized by how poor their record is and how poorly they run the ball. But, in reality, with a 4-year starter at QB and some tall, speedy receivers, I think the Gophers will be able to move the football against the Lions through the air.
MH: The defense should get a boost if Mike Mauti and Gerald Hodges are cleared to play. Both are practicing, but I also expect both to be rusty. However their athleticism should be an upgrade. Penn State's issue of being unable to pressure the pocket has to change here. Weber is smart and will take advantage of the extra time PSU opts to give him.
McKnight is a major threat and a favorite target of Weber. I think we'll see Minnesota trying to mount some drives, but I would not be surprised to see them try to go up top to ignite their offense and keep PSU's defense guessing. Bottom line is that Minnesota is better than their 1-6 record. And if they can put points up it may be enough for them to edge out PSU given their red-zone woes.
The PSU coaches have moved Chaz Powell back to corner but it looks like Stephon Morris and D'Anton Lynn will get most of the first-team work. They have shifted around Drew Astorino and Andrew Dailey, flipping them from free safety to strong safety and vice versa, but I am not sure what they are going for here.
For me, the major indicator for PSU's defensive success will be the ends. The Lions are thin, but if Sean Stanley gets in there, he's going to have to disrupt Weber enough to force some decisions.
ND: Minnesota's issues can really be summarized by their performance on special teams. They stink. Their punter, Dan Orseske is averaging 37 yards per punt. When you factor in the punt return, the Gophers are 108th in net punting. Meanwhile, don't look now but Penn State isn't so bad on special teams. They are 9th in the country in kickoff returns and even though Fera hasn't been great on punts (40.19 yards per punt) the coverage has been terrific. I really think Penn State needs to show some aggressiveness and go after some punts and kicks in order to try to change momentum and to get some energy flowing through this team.
MH: PSU is leading the Big Ten in kick returns and kick coverage. They absolutely have to take full advantage of the apparent edge they have on special teams. If PSU can get into some short-field situations it will be a major boost to the Lions in this game.
Matchup to Kick Back and Enjoy:
ND: Penn State's defense has been patched together for this game and the real proof of the pudding will come when Weber drops back to throw the football. The Gophers can throw the football and it'll be interesting to see how the pass rush and secondary are able to perform against Weber and his receivers.
MH: I think it will be interesting to see if Evan Royster is able to exploit the issues Minnesota is having with their run defense. This is an opportunity for him to break one open and be3 done with the record if he can find some holes.
Keys to the Game:
ND: The Lions have to find a rhythm on offense. Minnesota's defense has been porous at best. If Bolden and the offensive line can get into the endzone in the first couple of series, then I think this offense can generate the confidence it needs to take advantage of a Gopher defense that has struggled to stop the run and the pass.
MH: I think this game completely comes down to Penn State's offensive line. If they can get a push and open up lanes then the Lions should be able to move the ball. However, are they able to put touchdowns instead of field goals on the board?
ND: Everyone is stating that Minnesota stinks. Don't buy it. Minnesota has been competitive at home despite losing all but one game. This team will score points. But, I think Penn State will score slightly more.
Penn State 23, Minnesota 20
MH: I don't buy it either. I am hesitant to pick Penn State in this one given how porous their play has been, but I'll take the sucker's bet and go with PSU thinking they have to wake up at some point.
Penn State 20, Minnesota 13
Until next time,
Fight On State!