MINN: Line Flexes Muscles

Penn State's offensive front steals the shows from Minnesota's vaunted unit as the Nittany Lions crunch the Golden Gophers 44-14 at Beaver Stadium.

Equipped with star running back Laurence Maroney, a highly touted offensive line and a ball-control offense cut in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ mold, many felt No. 18 Minnesota would handle Penn State physically when the two teams met Saturday. However, when the sun had finally set behind the student section in Beaver Stadium, quite the opposite had happened: The much-maligned Penn State offensive line had out-Minnesotaed Minnesota.

Going into the Big Ten matchup, the Golden Gophers had been averaging 326.5 yards rushing per game en route to a 4-0 record. But they finished this game with only 129, 76 of which came in a meaningless fourth quarter of their 44-14 loss.

The Nittany Lion hogs, on the other hand, got great push against the Minnesota defensive line all game on their way to 364 yards on the ground on 59 carries, including two 100-yard rushers in quarterback Michael Robinson and running back Tony Hunt.

“I think once we scored the first touchdown, we just all got the mentality that they couldn’t stop us,” junior tackle Levi Brown said.

Coming into the 2005 season, one of the biggest question marks surrounding Penn State was the play of the offensive line. Starting center E.Z. Smith had been expelled for the summer semester for his involvement in the “Arrowgate” scandal and did not return to the team until near the end of preseason drills. While the line still boasted several seniors, there wasn’t much to get excited about after the play of last year’s anemic offense.

Around 7:30 p.m. Saturday, the question mark that had been looming over the collective head of the Nittany Lion offensive line mysteriously morphed into an exclamation point as the final seconds ticked off the game clock.

“It won’t be our best [performance] once the season’s over, but it’s the best so far,” Brown said, referring to the play of the offensive line.

“You practice hard all week, put that many hours in, it’s a good feeling to go out there and get that kind of performance,” added senior tackle John Wilson, who looked and sounded relieved as he fielded questions from the media.

The Golden Gophers came into Saturday’s game much like the Nittany Lions. Both teams had just come away with close victories, Penn State with its last-minute dramatics at Northwestern and Minnesota in a grueling double-overtime win against Purdue. Saturday’s game may have been a test of which team had more left in the tank.

“They’re a really good team,” Wilson said. “All week this offensive line felt like we needed to go out there and produce something.”

The game was decided in the first quarter. After Minnesota won the coin toss and decided to receive, the Penn State defense took over. It held the Gophers to three consecutive three and outs on their first three drives, and before the burgundy and gold faithful could look up, the score was 17-0.

“They’re doing a great job right now,” quarterback Michael Robinson said of his offensive line. “Hopefully they’ll keep it up.”

On its way to putting together three drives of 13 plays or more, the Penn State offensive line demoralized the Minnesota front seven all afternoon. Penn State held the ball for 35:18, while the Gophers were held well below their season average at 24:42.

“I think as a whole offense we’re coming together,” Brown said. “Everything is starting to click.”


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