– Story by PSU Insiders Brian Tripp (@PSUTripp) and Darian Somers (@StuffSomersSays)
Each week both members of our Penn State coverage team will provide three keys to a Penn State victory, a player to watch and a score prediction. Here are this week’s keys for Saturday’s game against Minnesota.
Brian’s Three Keys:
- Third Down Success – Here are some stats. Penn State ranks 127th nationally, converting only 24.4% of third downs on offense. Minnesota is fifth nationally with a 55.8% conversion rate. The Golden Gophers will run the football often and try to control the game’s tempo. Penn State’s third down struggles have abruptly ended drives too frequently. The Nittany Lions average time of possession is a subpar 26:05. For Penn State to emerge with a victory, it must sustain drives to keep an ailing defense off the field against an excellent Minnesota rushing attack. The Nittany Lions were just 2-for-12 against Michigan. Meanwhile, the Wolverines went 11-for-16 against the Penn State defense. A repeat performance could result in a sub-.500 record at day’s end.
- Avoid Turnovers – Simple, but true. Penn State has a minus-four turnover margin this season. Minnesota has been much better with a plus-three ratio. Not only do the Golden Gophers protect the rock, they capitalize on opponents’ mistakes. Minnesota has 31 points off turnovers through three games. When two teams are so evenly matched, every mistake is magnified.
- Attack Minnesota’s Secondary – Penn State’s best matchup advantage comes with its strong contingent of wide receivers against a reeling Minnesota secondary. The Golden Gophers lost a lot of talent after last season and have several injuries in the defensive backfield. Starting cornerback Jalen Myrick possesses the talent to lockdown Chris Godwin. However, Minnesota lacks the depth to contain DaeSean Hamilton, DeAndre Thompkins and Mike Gesicki. If quarterback Trace McSorley has time in the pocket, he should have plenty of playmakers available to distribute the football to.
Darian’s Three Keys:
- Pass First Offense – I get it. Saquon Barkley is very good at running, but he’s also good pass blocking and getting separation. Penn State can actually spread the ball out this year and they need to open up the offense a lot more. DaeSean Hamilton and company need to get their hands on the ball more. And guess what, it will open up the run game too.
- Make the First Tackle – It’s so frustrating. It’s like a great hitter who can’t just find his groove. Penn State is struggling at tackling right now and can finally get back to basics against a good rushing team in Minnesota. It could be a long day if they continue to swing and miss.
- Get Healthy at Linebacker – Now typically, you want them to play, but the linebackers who are hurt, Bell and Cabinda need to get healthy and it’s time for the new guys to step up. This weekend could be a crucial confidence boost if they play well.
Brian’s Player to Watch
Interior Offensive Line – Right guard Connor McGovern, center Brian Gaia and left guard Ryan Bates will face another tough test against Minnesota. Gophers’ DT Steven Richardson already has five tackles for loss in three contests this season and causes a lot of havoc in opponents’ backfields. McGovern, Gaia and Bates will be tasked with neutralizing Richardson and allowing McSorley and Barkley space to operate in the shotgun. If the trio fails to contain the talented junior, he will disrupt timing on read-option runs and passing patterns. Franklin said his team was dominated physically last week against Michigan and labeled the Gophers as another physical team. Here’s a chance for the interior offensive line to prove itself.
Darian’s Player to Watch
Mother Nature – She could have a serious impact in this one. If it rains, there’s going to be a lot of running so Penn State’s offensive line will need to open up some holes better than the clouds open up their rain spouts. Barkley can’t do all the work so Penn State needs to rely on Miles Sanders to pick some of it up. It’ll be important for him to hold on to the ball — something he’s struggled with — in slick conditions.
Darian’s Prediction: Penn State 38 Minnesota 30
Note – Brian will not be picking this week’s game. He will have coverage as the sideline reporter on Big Ten Network’s live TV broadcast.