PSU faces different whiteout
It looks like Happy Valley is experiencing a different kind of ''whiteout'' this weekend.
With the mid-October arrival of snow in State College, Penn State will also have the elements in mind when Minnesota visits this afternoon in a 3:30 kick-off before a national TV audience on ABC.
About 2-8 inches of wet, heavy snow was expected overnight, in addition to what already had been received in Centre County.
There's irony that Minnesota, which played its home games at the covered Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome for years before building the on-campus TFC Bank Stadium that opened this year, would be traveling east into what could be a winter wonderland.
It's enough to remind Penn State fans of the 1995 Michigan game at Beaver Stadium, which was preceded by 17 inches of snow. That game, won by the Nittany Lions 27-17, was held in mid-November, however.
University officials are calling on fans traveling to today's game to use caution and patience, as the snowy conditions may wipe out about 20,000 parking spaces. PSU is calling on area businesses to lend a hand with providing parking, with the school utilizing shuttle buses to get spectators to the stadium.
The Lions are hoping for a different outcome from their last ''whiteout'', when they suffered their lone loss, falling 21-10 to Iowa in the rain despite a pumped up ''whitehouse'' crowd wearing white in support.
PSU has rebounded with two straight dominant performances, using a big second half to put away Illinois and crushing FCS foe Eastern Illinois 52-3 last week.
The Golden Gophers are back on the Lions' Big Ten slate for the first time since 2006, and they have a new look, as Tim Brewster is now at the helm, taking over for Glen Mason.
While the Lions lead the series 6-4, the Gophers had won four in a row from 1999-2004, and in the last meeting, in 2006, PSU beat Minnesota 28-27 in overtime. The 1999 upset loss to the Gophers, 24-23 at Beaver Stadium, on a Hail Mary pass and last second field goal, still rankles the PSU faithful, as it derailed a then-unbeaten Lions squad.
Right now the Lions and Gophers each have one Big Ten loss. Ohio State leads the pack at 3-0 and Iowa is 2-0, followed by Wisconsin, Michigan State and Minnesota each at 2-1. PSU and Northwestern are both at 1-1
If the Lions harbor any ideas of defending their Big Ten crown and earning at least a share of the title this season, they have little margin for error and will have to win out, plus hope someone can beat Iowa.
Brewster is in his third year at the Minnesota helm and has a career mark of 12-19. Last year he coached the Gophers to a berth in the Insight Bowl.
So far the Gophers are 4-2, with wins over Syracuse (23-20 in OT), Air Force (20-13), Northwestern (35-24) and against Purdue last week (35-20). The two losses have been against California (35-21) and Wisconsin (31-28).
Most of the focus for the Lions will be on slowing down Gophers' Eric Decker, the Big Ten's leading receiver, who is definitely the go-to guy for quarterback Adam Weber.
Decker has already caught 46 passes for 689 yards and 5 touchdowns. He is averaging 114 receiving yards per game. The Gophers' next best receivers, Nick Tow-Amett and Troy Stoudemire, both have 13 catches.
By contrast, Derek Moye has 21 receptions and Chaz Powell 19 to lead the Lions.
Penn State began the season with an all-new secondary, but that hasn't been a big issue so far, thanks primary to the pass rush the Lions have been able to generate out of their front seven, led by the front four of tackles Jared Odrick and Ollie Ogbu and ends Jack Crawford and Eric Lattimore. If PSU can keep the heat on Weber, it can take the pressure off the defensive backs covering Decker.
''You've always got to be aware of the superior wideouts such as Decker,'' said Joe Paterno at his weekly press conference (full text is at www.gopsusports.com). ''There's a great chemistry between him and the quarterback, and the quarterback has such confidence in him, he'll make throws to him that you wouldn't ordinarily make.''
Paterno cautioned that the Lions can't afford to get caught up in worrying just about Decker, although that is at the top of the defensive checklist.
Weber has completed 96 of 168 passes for 1,224 yards with 6 TDs but 8 interceptions. The Lions' Daryll Clark is 107 of 173 for 1,367 yards and 12 TDs; Clark has been picked off seven times.
When the Gophers run the ball , Duane Bennett is the leading rusher with 61 carries for 283 yards and 5 TDs, while DeLeon Eskridge has added 209 yards and 3 TDs.
''You never see the same offense two weeks in a row from Minnesota,'' said Paterno. ''They're very, very innovative. They have smart kids who can handle different formations, different pass routes each week, and they have an experienced QB who is able to keep everything together.''
Defensively, Minnesota is led by a trio of linebackers in Lee Campbell, who has 64 tackles, Nate Triplett, who has 61 stops, and Simoni Lawrence, with 50 hits. Tackle Eric Small has a team-high three sacks. Gophers to watch in the secondary include safety Kyle Theret and cornerback Kim Royston.
Paterno said the Gophers like to do a lot of blitzing and change things up defensively to keep teams off balance.
Kicker Eric Ellestad has been good on 7 of 8 field goal attempts for the Gophers, including the game-winner at Syracuse in OT.
NITTANY NOTES - The Lions are ranked 13th in the USA Today Coaches Poll and 14th in the Associated Press writers' poll ... this weekend is the 90th Homecoming for PSU. The Lions are 64-20-5 in Homecoming games ... the winner of the Penn State-Minnesota game will get possession of the Governor's Victory Bell, which was established by the schools when the Lions entered the Big Ten and Minnesota was their first opponent. PSU's other trophy game is with Michigan State, with the winner getting the Land Grant Trophy ... former Penn State All-American defensive tackle Matt Millen returns to his alma mater today as an analyst for ABC ... linebacker Sean Lee is listed as possible again for today but has missed the last three games with a knee sprain, Despite that, Lee is still the Lions' second leading tackler with 32. Linebacker Josh Hull leads the squad with 63 stops ... right tackle Nerraw McCormack is also listed as possible with an ankle injury. AKo Poti saw most of the playing time there against Eastern Illinois. Paterno said DeOn'tae Pannell could have played against EIU but would not have been 100 percent. Mike Farrell was also moved up and saw action on 10-12 plays ... Paterno said he has no plans for this year to use defensive tackle Brandon Ware, who is out with a foot injury and is overweight. Ware is also in Paterno's doghouse for cutting classes ... PSU goes on the road the next two weeks, at Michigan and Northwestern, before returning home Nov. 7 for the annual Border War with Ohio State and Terrelle Pryor.