Minnesota 31, Penn State 26: 3 Key Takeaways

By Nick Polak on November 9, 2019 at 3:30 pm
Nov 9, 2019; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Golden Gophers linebacker Mariano Sori-Marin (55) reacts after making a tackle to force a fourth down in the first half against the Penn State Nittany Lions at TCF Bank Stadium.
Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

The dream of the undefeated season is over, as the Nittany Lions fell in an early hole they couldn't dig themselves out of against Minnesota and the Gophers game out on top, 31-26.

Minnesota capitalized early on a Penn State turnover to take an early 7-0 lead and never looked back. Penn State had its chances to get back into the game late, but couldn't overcome a horribly inefficient day in the red zone. They had a chance to score on their final drive and were primed to have the ball inside the three-yard-line, but a questionable pass interference was called on Daniel George, backing the Lions up. The Gophers picked off the 3rd-and-24 pass, sealing the win.

Penn State's Pass Defense Had a Long, Terrible Day

Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan was able to hit wide open receivers all day long. The Nittany Lion secondary looked completely unprepared for what the Gophers threw at them, as Rashod Bateman and Tyler Johnson toyed with the Penn State cornerbacks from the first snap.

Tariq Castro-Fields, in particular, had an extremely disappointing day, and the Gophers were clearly targeting him. He seemingly turned the wrong way on every play and Minnesota was able to convert third down after third down because of it.

John Reid also was called for a pass interference penalty that bailed out Minnesota from a 3rd-and-long late in the game while pinned back deep in their own territory. The Lions got the ball back anyway, but it wasted precious time on the clock.

Sean Clifford Was Rattled

It wasn't the biggest road environment Clifford has played in, nor was it the toughest defense he's faced. But the Penn State quarterback just didn't have it against the Gophers. The redshirt sophomore had two brutal interceptions early on, neither of which had any business being thrown. He was also picked on his final pass of the game, in which he had Hamler open for a touchdown but underthrew him. Aside from those, he also missed multiple open receivers and found essentially no success on the ground.

Simply put, it was the worst outing of the young signal caller's career.

Red Zone Woes

Trailing 31-19, Penn State had the ball just a few yards out of the end zone on 1st-and-goal. The first two play calls were Devyn Ford runs. The third was a read-option that Clifford seemed to have decided he was keeping all the way. Then, on fourth down, they tried a fade to Hamler in the corner of the end zone.

The question, though, is why? One run call in that range makes sense, but Penn State's biggest success all day had come from seam passes to its tight ends, Pat Freiermuth and Nick Bowers. Yet, neither one was even looked to with four shots at the end zone and the game effectively on the line. It was puzzling and maddening to watch, especially when the last-ditch option was a fade to the shortest receiver on the roster, talented as he may be.

Then, of course, there was the aforementioned game-winning interception in the end zone that ended the game. It was the first turnover the Lions have had in the red zone in 2019.

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