Highs and Lows in PSU’s loss against Minnesota
By NEIL RUDEL
For The Express
MINNEAPOLIS — Following are the highlights and lowlights from Penn State’s 31-26 loss to Minnesota on Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium:
Play of the game: You can surely make a case for Sean Clifford’s interception in the end zone by Jordan Howden, which sealed Penn State’s fate with 1:01 left. But the play the Lions really didn’t recover from was the offensive pass interference penalty on Daniel George that took the ball from the Minnesota 2 to the Gophers’ 25 on PSU’s final possession. Instead of third-and-goal from the 2, it’s second-and-24 from the 25.
Offensive player of the game: Gopher quarterback Tanner Morgan hit on 18-of-20 for a staggering 339 yards – an incredible 18.8 yards per completion – and three touchdowns. He was not intercepted. He also rushed four times for 11 yards.
Defensive player of the game: Minnesota cornerback Antoine Winfield Jr. made 11 tackles, including a game-high nine solos, and two interceptions, one of which he returned 33 yards.
Most telling statistic: The Gophers averaged 17.0 yards on 20 passing attempts. Simply unheard of.
Most deceiving statistic(s): Penn State won time of possession (31:01-28:59), converted eight of 16 third downs and only punted twice.
Hidden statistic: Minnesota only ran 60 plays, 13 less than PSU.
Best run: Minnesota’s Mohamed Ibrahim burst around Yetur Gross-Matos, past Micah Parsons and trucked Tariq Castro-Fields on a 21-yard third-quarter run.
Best pass: Morgan served notice early by finding Rashod Bateman for a 66-yard touchdown up the right sideline, beating a late Garrett Taylor, for the game-opening score.
Worst pass: Clifford also was picked by Winfield at the Minny 6 – on a ball thrown up for grabs — with the Lions driving in the second quarter.
Best catch: No contest. Minnesota’s Tyler Johnson pulled in a 38-yard touchdown with one hand (his left) against Keaton Ellis in the second quarter, pushing the Gophers’ lead to 21-10.
Catch it, will ya: Other than KJ Hamler, Penn State’s receivers had a lousy day, led by Justin Shorter, who dropped a game-opening slant, didn’t do enough to catch or break up an interception on a 50-50 ball Winfield came up with moments later, and then put a bow on it by dropping a TD in the third quarter. Daniel George killed a second-quarter possession with a third-down drop, and Dan Chisena dropped a potential late TD.
Hold it, won’t ya: Hamler was charged with Penn State’s only fumble on a punt return/fair catch, but it was actually caused by special teams player Isaac Lutz, who bumped into Hamler.
Best tackle: With Penn State charging back, down 31-26 inside two minutes, Howden stopped Jahan Dotson after a 49-yard gain to the Minnesota 11, which may have ended up saving the game.
Best hit: Keaton Ellis forced a fumble out of Terrell Smith at midfield, and Shaka Toney recovered, with the Lions down 24-13 in the third quarter.
Best block: The left side of the Lions’ line, Rashard Walker and Steven Gonzalez, did a great job sealing the edge early as Journey Brown busted runs of 45 yards (TD) and 39 yards.
Best kick: Blake Gillikin bailed the Lions out of their end zone with a 51-yard punt in the third quarter.
Worst kick: Didn’t see anything too bad unless you consider Minnesota’s Grant Ryerse opening the game by booting the ball out of bounds.
Blown coverage: Just pop in the tape of PSU’s secondary in action.
Worst penalty: John Reid’s pass interference penalty on third down in the fourth quarter extended a Minnesota possession and wiped out Penn State’s last breath. But stuck in our craw was third-and-3 from the Minnesota 10, down 14-7, when Penn State was caught for delay of game, bumping the Lions back and forcing a field goal.
Best call: Minnesota ran a flea flicker in the second quarter in which both of its wide receivers were wide open. Morgan picked Tyler Johnson for a 26-yard gain.
Worst call: After a 20-yard reception to Pat Freiermuth to the Minnesota 7 with 20 seconds left in the first half, Penn State spiked the ball with the clock stopped, costing itself a down instead of running a quick play. Ricky Rahne, please explain.
Best effort: Bateman caught seven passes for 203 yards and a touchdown.
Unsung hero: Johnson caught seven passes for 104 yards and another score.