We have to admit, there are many games when we start writing this stuff in the first half. It's just a way to get ahead of the postgame crush a bit.
But it is probably a good thing we did not start breaking down Penn State's wild 29-26 overtime win over Minnesota at Beaver Stadium Saturday until after all of the smoke had cleared.
The Nittany Lions looked like two completely different teams in the first and second halves, respectively.
In the opening 30 minutes, they couldn't make plays. They seemed poorly coached. They were on the verge of putting the soggy Beaver Stadium crowd of 95,332 into hibernation. PSU trailed 13-3 at the break and gave no indication it could hang with a so-so Golden Gopher outfit.
In the final 30 minutes, well, everyone associated with Penn State woke up — players, coaches and even the fans. It led to a rousing turnaround that resulted in what was as close to a must-win game as any program can face a month into the season.
The Lions improved to 3-2 overall and 1-1 in the Big Ten with the win. Minnesota slipped to 3-1 and 0-1.
Fasten your seatbelts, because here is how we saw the things.
MAN OF THE HOUR
QB Trace McSorley really willed this team to the victory. He was not perfect, hitting on only 19 of 40 passes. But that was in part because PSU took so many deep shots (he finished with 335 yards through the air). His 20-yard completion to Chris Godwin and then 26-yard scramble as PSU battled to kick the tying field goal at the end of regulation were both amazing.
We know he had a critical facemask call that helped allow the Gophers to take a late lead (temporarily). However, S Marcus Allen's 22 tackles saved the day for a defense whose LB corps has been just ravaged by injury.
Godwin had four catches for 97 yards. The 20-yarder from McSorley with the game on the line was spectacular.
Down 13-3 at the half, Penn State got the ball to start the second half and went three and out. It seemed like the game could be over. But then the defense stiffened and forced a punt. McSorley then hit redshirt freshman WR Irvin Charles for an 80-yard TD catch and run, and just like that it was a game again.
Penn State went deep over and over again vs. the Minnesota secondary. The numbers turned out to be staggering. Besides Charles' 80-yarder, TE Mike Gesicki and WR DeAndre Thompkins both caught 53-yard passes. And Godwin had a 36-yarder.
• Minnesota had 31 first downs. Penn State had 19. Yet PSU had two more total yards (471-469).
• The Gophers won the TOP battle, 36:47-23:13.
• Before popping the 25-yard game-winning score in overtime, PSU RB Saquon Barkley was bottled up to the tune of 19 carries for 38 yards.
LOST IN THE SHUFFLE
• K Tyler Davis has now made a PSU record 17 straight field goal attempts.
• More injuries to the Mike linebacker position (see below) forced Manny Bowen to move there late in the game. He had never manned the position before at PSU. But the defense played well with him there.
• Injuries at CB forced veteran Jordan Smith to see the most extensive action of his career. And he came through with an end zone interception that snuffed out a late Gopher drive and may well have saved the game for PSU.
WHAT'S UP WITH?
• PSU calling a timeout on third-and-18 late in the second quarter? It only served to save the Gophers time for when they inevitably got the ball back, and they took advantage by hitting a field goal with one second left in the first half. PSU coach James Franklin dodged a question on the matter in his postgame press conference. We're not sure how he could have answered it, anyway. But this poor clock management could have cost PSU the game.
• PSU not going for it on fourth and goal from the Minnesota 1 in the second quarter. This after going for it on fourth down twice previously in the game (and making one of two). Fans booed.
• The incredible streak of bad luck for the Lions at linebacker. Two more Mike 'backers — Brandon Smith and Jake Cooper — left this game with injuries.
• Penn State having another player being ejected for targeting. This time it was DT Curtis Cothran, who hit Gopher Mitch Leidner high shortly after the QB released the ball. This was a better call than last week's debacle against Brandon Smith. But we're not sure how you are supposed to coach defensive players to avoid this sort of contact.
DID YOU NOTICE?
• CB Grant Haley was back after missing three games with an undisclosed injury. That was important because…
• Starting CB Christian Campbell had a leg injury earlier and was taken by cart to the locker room. He did not return.
• Usual starting S Malik Golden dressed but did not play due to an undisclosed injury.
• Sophomore WR Brandon Polk did not dress. Could PSU be hoping to redshirt him? We'll ask when we get the chance.
• Chasz Wright has been moved to right guard. He split reps with new starter Connor McGovern.
Will the Lions have enough players to field a starting defense when Maryland visits for Homecoming next week?