Penn State vs. Minnesota: 3 Nittany Lions to Watch Against the Golden Gophers

By Barry Leonard on November 7, 2019 at 8:00 am
Oct 19, 2019; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions linebacker Micah Parsons (11) reacts to a defensive play as teammate safety Lamont Wade (38) looks on against the Michigan Wolverines during the second quarter at Beaver Stadium.
Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

After a bye week, the undefeated Nittany Lions are set to hit the road on Saturday for a game that is now much bigger than originally projected. No. 4 Penn State will travel to Minnesota to take on the undefeated No. 13 Golden Gophers.

The Nittany Lions are in the middle of a brutal stretch that's already seen them play No. 18 Iowa, No. 14 Michigan, and Michigan State. It's a rough series of games, even with the bye week this past weekend having broken things up a bit. 

Minnesota obviously isn't a team that can be overlooked, and head coach PJ Fleck will have his team fired up to host one of the biggest games in Minnesota football history. 

Penn State needs to stay focused on the task at hand and not get caught looking ahead to the battle that's looming with Ohio State in a few weeks. In order for the Nittany Lions to come out with a victory and remain unbeaten, the following players will need to have strong performances in Minneapolis. 

Running Back Noah Cain 

After spending the first part of the season as part of a four-back rotation, true freshman Noah Cain enters this week listed first on the Penn State depth chart at running back. Of course, there's still the "or" separating the four backs, but Cain should be in line for the start and the majority, even if a small majority, of the work.

The true freshman has been the most consistent of Penn State's running backs when given the opportunity. He leads the Nittany Lions with 350 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns on 5.1 yards per rush.

He's struggled in the last two games, rushing for just 19 yards on 5 carries against Michigan and 21 yards on 6 carries versus Michigan State. He left the Michigan State game due to injury, but is expected to be ready to go this week against Minnesota. 

LB Micah Parsons 

Parsons has really blossomed in his sophomore season and has become one of the best linebackers in the nation. He was just recently named a semifinalist for the Butkus Award, given to the top linebacker in the nation, annually.

The sophomore will need to be on the top of his game this week if Penn State hopes to control Minnesota's potent rushing attack. The Golden Gophers are averaging over 204 yards on the ground per game and like to use their backs to control the flow of the game. 

Thanks in large part to Parsons and his team-high 57 total tackles, the Nittany Lions are second in the nation, allowing just 68 rushing yards per game.

Look for Parsons to be busy Saturday as he chases down the Gophers' rushing attack and tries to keep them from gaining any offensive momentum.

TE Pat Freiermuth

The sophomore tight end was difficult to cover as a true freshman a season ago. Now, he has truly become one of the toughest tight ends to cover in the nation. Standing at six-foot-five and weighing over 250 pounds, Freiermuth is a matchup nightmare, particularly for linebackers across the middle.

Freiermuth is coming off a huge game against Michigan State where he grabbed five receptions for 60 yards and three touchdowns. On the season, Freiermuth now has 291 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. He needs just one more touchdown to become the all-time leader in Penn State history for touchdowns by a tight end.

Penn State is going to need another big performance from one of its top playmakers in order to leave Minnesota with an important victory.

What do you think? Who else are you watching on Saturday?

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