Time Travel: Much Has Changed Since the Last Time Penn State Took on Minnesota

By Jarrod Prugar on November 7, 2019 at 11:08 am
Oct 1, 2016; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions running back Saquon Barkley (26) leaps into the air after scoring a touchdown in overtime against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at Beaver Stadium. Penn State defeated Minnesota 29-26 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports
Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports
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Close your eyes and imagine it's the year 2016...

You've already watched Penn State trounce Kent State, lose by three at Pitt, a game in which garnered keychains for the Pitt coaches, squeak by Temple and get thumped at the Big House by Michigan. 

The Nittany Lions are 2-2 and hosting 3-1 Minnesota. Things are not going to plan. Saquon Barkley is not yet the Saquon fans will come to know and love, and Trace McSorley wasn't quite the Trace we now remember so fondly.

It's now the half, and Penn State exits the field under a chorus of "Fire Franklin" chants. They need a spark and need it desperately, or Franklin and his coaching staff could be on their way out the door before even getting full through it.

From that halftime on, Penn State football as we knew it changed forever. Two quick three-and-outs forced by the Nittany Lions set up an Irvin Charles, yes, that Irvin Charles, 80-yard touchdown reception to get Penn State within a field goal.

Tyler Davis would tie the game up with a 27-yard field goal on the ensuing drive before McSorley would find the end zone on their next drive. 

Of course, things wouldn't be easy, they never were back then, as Minnesota would go on to score 10 fourth-quarter points to give the Gophers a late lead. McSorley wouldn't be denied, however. The young quarterback had a long scramble that ultimately set up a 40-yard Davis field goal with 0:02 left on the clock, and forced overtime.

Minnesota would snatch an overtime lead with a field goal on their first drive and never held the ball again. Penn State football as we knew it changed in a big way and it took just a single play.

When Saquon Barkley went 25 yards on the first play of Penn State's only overtime possession, his legend began to grow in earnest, the coaching staff was saved from a potential early exit, and the Nittany Lions earned a desperately-needed victory.

I think it was definitely something our players needed," Franklin said following the game. "Everyone needed it, there's no doubt about it."

Penn State would go on to win the Big Ten Championship that year and eventually make it to the Rose Bowl. 

Now, open your eyes...

It's 2019 and your Penn State Nittany Lions are ranked fourth in the first College Football Playoff poll, are a perennial top-10 team, and are becoming a factory for elite NFL talent.

Those Nittany Lions are heading to Minneapolis to take on those very same Golden Gophers, this time undefeated and coached by the ever-energetic PJ Fleck.

Cue the Paul Rudd not me gif. 

Now though, the expectations have changed, the Nittany Lions are not hoping to get a win in the Twin Cities–they're expected to win.

Doing so would give James Franklin his 40th win in four years in State College with at least four games left to play this season. A loss will not cost Franklin his job like it could have in 2016 as he's no longer anywhere near the hot seat.

But with a game in Columbus looming, the recipe to keep the Nittany Lions at the top is simple–win. It won't come easy with a 6-2 Indiana team ready to visit Happy Valley a week from now and the battle against the Buckeyes just ahead on the horizon.

Now, more than ever, the Nittany Lions need another win against Minnesota to springboard them to even loftier heights. They need to prove they belong atop the college football landscape and among the four top programs in the country.

So while it may be a new year with new circumstances and new stakes, the ultimate goal remains the same as it was three years ago–beat Minnesota.

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