The Golden Gophers try to run right at everybody. They rank second in the Big Ten in both rushing attempts (201) and rushing yards per game (203). Junior tailback Amir Pinnix has nearly half of the team's rushing yards with 477 through five games, sixth best in the conference.
Minnesota's offensive approach figures to test the Nittany Lions' front seven. Indeed, much of the talk around the team this week has concerned its hopes of shutting down Pinnix and sophomore running back Alex Daniels.
Unfortunately for the Lions, there's more to stopping Minnesota than plugging up its running lanes. Although he doesn't get much attention, senior quarterback Bryan Cupito is having a fine season. He is completing just under 60 percent of his passes, is averaging 191.4 passing yards per game and has thrown nine touchdown passes, seven of them to senior wide receiver Logan Payne. Cupito will undoubtedly try to bedevil the Lions with play-action passes if they start paying too much attention to the run. That being the case, the team's defensive backs know they must be alert.
You have to be mindful of everything, strong safety Anthony Scirrotto said Wednesday afternoon. They have a lot of weapons. They have a running game and a passing game. If a run happens to leak through, you've got to be the last line of defense. You've got to make the tackle. And if they run the play action, you've got to be responsible for the pass. It's basically just going through all the little things like staying in your backpedal and stuff like that. For us to be successful, we have to focus on our responsibilities at each position on the defense.
Scirrotto's observations echoed those of Joe Paterno, who on Tuesday lauded Cupito, saying he is very comparable to the kids we have played against [this season].
The good news for Penn State is that its secondary appears to be rounding into form now that young players such as Scirrotto and sophomore cornerbacks Tony Davis and Justin King have five games of experience under their belt. Having rebounded from their rough outing at Notre Dame, in which Brady Quinn threw for 287 yards and three touchdowns, the Lions are allowing 177.6 yards per game through the air, fourth-best in the league.
Scirrotto has been one of the keys to their improvement. A 6-foot, 190-pound sophomore, he's held down the hero spot following the graduation of veteran starter Calvin Lowry.
Scirrotto, whose younger brother, Derek, joined the team as a walk-on this season, played in 11 games as a true freshman. He was most active in the Lions' 63-10 romp at Illinois, making his first career interception and returning two punts. He said the experience he gained as a freshman - he was on the field for 80 plays - helped ease his move to the starting lineup this year. Now he's looking to hone his instincts and become a more reflexive player.
Each game I feel more and more comfortable back there, making checks and reading the offense, Scirrotto said. I'm becoming more instinctive back there. I don't have to think as much. I can just play football. It's always easier for me when I'm not thinking as much, just playing and reacting.