Gophers will test PSU's run defense
It might not have been pretty, but the Penn State pulled out another overtime victory of the season last week, defeating Illinois 24-17 to bring them to 5-3 on the season (2-2 BIG 10).
On the docket this week are the Minnesota Golden Gophers. The Gophers are 7-2 (3-2 BIG 10) and present a bevy of challenges for a Nittany Lions team that quite honestly didn't look good at all last week.
Let's get right to it, and the first thing that comes to mind is the lack of tenacity that was played on the defensive end against the Illini. Play after play it looked like the PSU defensive backs were playing soft coverage and the results was a 321 yard passing day by Illinois quarterback Nate Scheelhaase.
The Penn State defense rarely got pressure on Scheelhaase throughout the day, which has been in my opinion one of their biggest problems on the defensive end this season.
The Penn State coaching staff did make a nice move last week, moving Adrian Amos back to his original position at cornerback. Amos played pretty well and played aggressively, which is something the entire Penn State secondary needs to adapt.
This week against the Gophers, Penn State will get more of a test in their run defense. Minnesota likes to run the ball a lot and they have two good running backs to do so. David Cobb and Mitch Leidner have played very well this season. Cobb has rushed for 803 yards and six touchdowns, while Leidner has rushed for 381 yards and seven scores. Minnesota averages 221 yards rushing per game.
"They run the ball very well. They run a power scheme. They've run the ball about 75 percent of the time, and that's what they do. That's what they believe in," said Penn State coach Bill O'Brien. "Those are the type of players they have. They have two good backs; guys that are good. The quarterback can run the ball, so they have good scheme runs. They're very well coached. This is a very, very good team. It's one of the better teams we've played this year."
The Gophers surely have had a good season and they're coming into their game with PSU winning three straight games after losing two straight, including a win over Nebraska and Indiana. The Hoosiers defeated Penn State 44-24 earlier in the season.
Another concern for Penn State is the fact that they have not played well on the road this season. The Nittany Lions are 0-2 on the road, getting outscored 107-38.
"Obviously we haven't played as well on the road," said O'Brien. "It's hard to pin-point why. Hopefully, that changes. I think we've practiced well. I think we've been prepared for these games on the road. I know that these guys came out yesterday and practiced really well. I think we'll string some good practices together and be ready to go on Saturday. So hopefully we can change the tide of not playing well on the road right now."
Offensively, the Nittany Lions just played inconsistent against the Illini last week. That is to be expected with a freshman quarterback at the helm, but there is no doubt that there has been way too much pressure put on Hackenberg so far this season. The Penn State football program has always been able to hang their hat on their defense, but this season it just hasn't been there. The PSU "D" is giving up 27.8 points per game, which is good for 74th in the country.
Getting back to the offense, it's pretty interesting to see how Hackenberg and O'Brien interact on the sidelines. On occasion it looks like the two get into it a little bit. O'Brien talked a little bit about their relationship at his weekly press conference.
"We have a close relationship. Obviously, I recruited him and have been in his living room and know his family," said O'Brien. "So it's a difficult situation that he's in, just being a freshman and playing major college football at that position for the first time. I'll be the first to tell you that many times, I definitely in the beginning of the year, had to be more patient with him. I think, overall, I do believe I've improved on that with him and I try to get him over to the bench and sit down with him and talk to him about the previous series and I think that's helped."
Hackenberg has been doing his coach proud this season as he has surpassed the 2,000-yard passing mark, making him the first to do so in the BIG 10 this season.
A couple of other Nittany Lions had nice performances last week.
Bill Belton tied Zach Zwinak for most carries in a game in PSU history and was the first player to rush for over 200 yards since Larry Johnson in 2002.
Allen Robinson continued his monster 2013 campaign, catching 11 passes for 165 yards against the Illini, bringing his season total to 1,043 yards on 66 catches. He leads the BIG 10 in receptions yards per game and receiving yards per game and ranks second and eighth nationally in both categories. Robinson only needs 42 more yards to break Bobby Engram's 1,084 yards.
Defensively, Minnesota is very similar statistically to the Nittany Lions. They give up 383.9 total yards of offense per game and about 25 points per game.
That means the PSU offense will have some opportunities to have success on Saturday, it's just a matter of what team will show up.
Penn State is a 1.5 point underdog this week.
My Pick is Penn State 30, Minnesota 27.