Penn State Preview: Minnesota

Penn State v. MINNESOTA (Photo by Steve Manuel)

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

UNIVERSITY PARK — Each week, we’ll tell you what to expect, what to keep an eye on, and where and when you can catch the Nittany Lions on fall Saturdays this season.

Game details: No. 4 Penn State (8-0, 5-0) at No. 17 Minnesota (8-0, 5-0).

Venue: TCF Bank Stadium, featuring a capacity of 50,805.

Weather forecast (via AccuWeather): High of 39 degrees and mostly cloudy.

The line: Penn State –6.5

Last week: Penn State and Minnesota each had a bye.

All-time series: Penn State leads 9-5.

Last meeting (2016): Penn State earned a dramatic 29-26 overtime win at Beaver Stadium, as Saquon Barkley rushed for a touchdown on the Nittany Lions’ first play in the extra session. The play helped spark an impressive run that included a win over No. 2 Ohio State en route to a Big Ten title and Rose Bowl appearance for the Nittany Lions.

Throwback classic (1993): Here’s a good trivia tidbit for fans: Minnesota was Penn State’s first Big Ten opponent, with the Nittany Lions earning a 38-20 victory on Sept. 4, 1993, at Beaver Stadium. The teams combined for more than 100 pass attempts, as Bobby Engram became the first player in program history to catch four touchdown passes.

Overview: Coming into the season, there was a good chance Penn State would have a November showdown against another undefeated team. The smart thinking had the game occurring in Columbus, though, not Minneapolis. Ohio State still looms, though Penn State will need to dispatch the upstart Gophers, having an against-the-odds kind of season that the typically ordinary Big Ten West teams have once a decade or so. Northwestern last season and Iowa in 2015 are two recent examples.

Perhaps the most impressive trait for this year’s Nittany Lions squad is their collective focus. They’ve won big and small, stayed ahead in tough environments, started fast, and have also closed out games. There’s a sense they’re truly battle-tested, so whatever they see Saturday against Minnesota, it won’t be anything they haven’t seen before.

Penn State wins if: the Nittany Lions hold the Gophers to less than 28 points. Minnesota’s offense has been consistently good all season, scoring at least 28 each game and averaging 41 in its five Big Ten contests. Gaudy numbers, even if against supposedly the weakest division in the conference and Rutgers and Maryland.

Minnesota wins if: the Gophers’ ground game can wear down the Nittany Lions. Based on numbers, Minnesota can win a shootout, though the Gophers will need to sustain drives that’ll test Penn State’s depth along the defensive line and in the linebacking corp. Minnesota averages 205 rushing yards per game, with Penn State allowing only 68. If the Gophers finish Saturday anywhere near the latter mark, their chances of winning are incredibly slim.

Keep an eye on: the offensive play-calling. Offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne has faced more criticism than you’d think for a team 8-0 and ranked No. 4 — and it’s easy to argue most of that criticism has been unwarranted — and it’ll be interesting to see if he dials up anything unexpected after having an extra week to think over the game plan.

Trivia tidbit: Penn State’s been ranked in the AP poll for 51 straight weeks, the third-longest streak in program history.

Predictions

John Patishnock: Penn State 28, Minnesota 24

Vince Lungaro: Penn State 33, Minnesota 20

Penn State Preview: Michigan State

Penn State v. Michigan State 2018 (Photo by Steve Manuel)

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

UNIVERSITY PARK — Each week, we’ll tell you what to expect, what to keep an eye on, and where and when you can catch the Nittany Lions on fall Saturdays this season.

Game details: No. 6 Penn State (7-0, 4-0 Big Ten) vs. Michigan State (4-3, 2-2), 3:30 p.m. kickoff, broadcast on ABC.

Venue: Spartan Stadium, which features a capacity of 75,005.

Weather forecast (via AccuWeather): High of 54 degrees with some sunshine giving way to clouds and rain at times in the afternoon.

The line: Penn State –6.

Last week: Penn State outlasted Michigan 28-21, while Michigan State had a bye.

All-time series: Michigan State leads 17-15-1.

Last meeting (2018): Michigan State escaped Beaver Stadium with a 21-17 win.

Throwback classic (2016): We’re sending it back only two years, to when Penn State demolished Michigan State 45-12 to win the Big Ten East Division title, before winning the conference championship a week later against Wisconsin in Indianapolis.

Overview: Penn State is 7-0 for the fifth time since joining the Big Ten, and while the Nittany Lions have created a ton of momentum the last few weeks (and really, the entire season), Saturday looms ahead. Michigan State has been outscored 72-10 in its last two games — losses to Ohio State and Wisconsin — and that stat actually makes the Spartans seem more dangerous. That’s how odd this game has been since James Franklin arrived in Happy Valley.

Penn State wins if: Sean Clifford continues to protect the ball. The first-year starter has thrown only two interceptions, and the home crowd will be thirsting for a win Saturday. It’s been almost a month since the Spartans’ last victory, a 40-31 win over Indiana on Sept. 28, and the same amount of time since Michigan State’s last home game. The atmosphere should be plenty rowdy, though won’t be anything Clifford hasn’t seen before. Protect the ball, and stay unbeaten: That’s the mantra Saturday for the superstar sophomore.

Michigan State wins if: the Spartans’ offensive line gives quarterback Brian Lewerke enough time to have downfield success. Penn State ranks fourth nationally in rush defense per game (66 yards), and Michigan State doesn’t appear to have the ground game to make it work Saturday. The Spartans average a respectable 117 yards per contest, though nothing that’ll shift the dynamic of the game. Unless a team can gain 200-plus yards against Penn State, and it doesn’t appear the Spartans have that potential, the air attack is the best bet. That’s what Michigan State will need Saturday.

Keep an eye on: Noah Cain (yes, we’re going with the true freshman running back again). Saturday will be a game when James Franklin might want to (have to?) divert from the running back rotation and go with a bruising back if the game turns into a contest of one grinding possession after another. Cain leads Penn State with 329 rushing yards and six touchdowns.

Trivia tidbit: Though Michigan State leads the overall series, Penn State is ahead 14-9 since joining the Big Ten.

Predictions

John Patishnock: Penn State 34, Michigan State 30

Vincent Lungaro: Penn State 30, Michigan State 21

Penn State Preview: Michigan

Purdue 2019 (Photo by Steve Manuel)

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel 

UNIVERSITY PARK — Each week, we’ll tell you what to expect, what to keep an eye on, and where and when you can catch the Nittany Lions on fall Saturdays this season.

Game details: No. 7 Penn State vs. No. 16 Michigan, 7:30 p.m. kickoff, broadcast on ABC.

Venue: Beaver Stadium, where Penn State boasts an all-time record of 294-74.

Weather forecast (via AccuWeather): High of 59 degrees and mostly sunny.

The line: Penn State –8.5.

Last week: Penn State outlasted Iowa 17-12 at Kinnick Stadium, while Michigan thumped Illinois 42-25.

All-time series: Michigan leads 14-8.

Last meeting (2018): Michigan earned a convincing 42-7 victory in Ann Arbor.

Throwback classic (2008): Penn State roared back from an early 10-point deficit to dismantle Michigan 46-17 on the Nittany Lions’ path to a Big Ten title and Rose Bowl appearance.

Overview: Penn State’s trajectory had them competing for a spot in the playoff next season, though they’re showing this year is also a reality. Sean Clifford’s acclimated to the offense immediately, distributing the ball efficiently through the air while also remaining a threat to run whenever needed. The defense has been as good as imaginable, with future NFL first-round draft pick Yetur Gross-Matos totaling 18 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, and 5.5 sacks to lead the group.

Here’s what Michigan has going in its favor. The Wolverines essentially have to win this game, both in terms of the Big Ten race, and their season. They host No. 8 Notre Dame next weekend, and if they lose both contests, then it’ll feel like Harbaugh will never win the Big Ten or national championship at Michigan. Remember, this was supposed to be the year for the Wolverines, with Shea Patterson coming back to run a revamped offense, Ohio State welcoming a new coach, and Penn State moving on from Trace McSorley. So, Saturday means a lot more to Michigan. Not just for this season, though also for their future.

Penn State wins if: the White Out atmosphere is everything it promises to be. The crowd will undoubtedly be loud, disruptive, and influential in the outcome of the game. For all the talk about Xs and Os this week, what’ll be most interesting to see is how Patterson and the Wolverine offensive line handle what’ll be the toughest environment they’ll play in this year, and maybe in their collegiate careers.

Michigan wins if: Josh Gattis engineers the best offensive performance of his career. After working with James Franklin for a number of years, including at Penn State as the wide receivers coach, Gattis now serves as Michigan’s offensive coordinator. The Wolverines have produced big numbers, albeit against Rutgers and Illinois, though have looked fairly stagnant during other parts of the season (Wisconsin, Army). Penn State features perhaps the best front-seven and overall defense in the country, so Gattis needs to show something we haven’t seen yet this season: a big-time performance against a marquee opponent.

Keep an eye on: Noah Cain. While Penn State’s running back rotation has continued through thte first half of the season, Cain constantly stands out. He was in the game during the Nittany Lions’ season-defining drive last week against Iowa, capping off a scoring drive and giving Penn State enough cushion to hold off the Hawkeyes. Cain’s a true freshman, though has shown he can handle the spotlight.

Trivia tidbit: Penn State stands 6-0 for the fourth time since 2000.

Predictions

John Patishnock: Penn State 31, Michigan 21

Vince Lungaro: Penn State 24, Michigan 14

Penn State Preview: Purdue

Penn State v.Pitt (Photo by Steve Manuel)

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Each week, we’ll tell you what to expect, what to keep an eye on, and where and when you can catch the Nittany Lions on fall Saturdays this season.

 

Game details: No. 12/11 Penn State vs. Purdue, noon kickoff, broadcast on ESPN.

 

Venue: Beaver Stadium, where Penn State boasts an all-time record of 293-74.

 

Weather forecast (via AccuWeather): High of 60 degrees with plenty of sunshine.

 

The line: Penn State – 28.5

 

Last week: Penn State dominated Maryland 59-0, while Purdue dropped a home contest to Minnesota 38-31.

 

All-time series: Penn State leads 14-3-1.

 

Last meeting (2016): Penn State blasted Purdue 62-24 in West Lafayette, overcoming a sluggish first half to earn the convincing win. This game is also noteworthy since it came right after the Nittany Lions’ upset of No. 2 Ohio State, setting up Penn State’s run to a Big Ten title and the Rose Bowl.

 

Throwback classic (2004): The White Out is now widely regarded as one of the best environments in college football, and perhaps all of sports. But back in 2004, it was a novelty, with the student section wearing all white for the first time during a 20-13 loss to undefeated ninth-ranked Purdue (the first stadium-wide White Out came years later).

 

Overview: Win Saturday, and Penn State sets itself up for a highly compelling four-game stretch against Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, and Minnesota — the Golden Gophers have started the season 4-0. More immediate, the Boilermakers enter this weekend with a disappointing 1-3 mark, and head coach Jeff Brohm announced earlier in the week that star wide receiver Rondale Moore will be out after suffering an injury last weekend. Without him, it’s difficult to see Purdue scoring 30-plus points, a mark that Penn State should surpass; the Nittany Lions are averaging 50 per game so far this year. Purdue quarterback Elijah Sindelar will also sit out after being injured on the same play as Moore, so the Boilermakers need a whole lot to go right for them to pull off an upset on Homecoming weekend in Happy Valley.

 

Penn State wins if: the defense continues to create mayhem. Penn State’s given up only 30 points through four games, and with the offense having the potential to 40-plus seemingly every week, even a workmanlike performance Saturday should be enough to keep Penn State unbeaten.

 

Purdue wins if: the Boilermakers can make Sean Clifford uncomfortable. For as much as success as Clifford (and the offense) has had this year, he did look rattled, at times, when Pitt pressured him last month. Purdue clearly can’t win a shootout, so the Boilers’ best chance is to grind out the clock and limit Clifford’s opportunities when the Nittany Lions have the ball.

 

Keep an eye on: Penn State’s third down success. Last week, the Nittany Lions converted its first seven third down opportunities and finished 9-of-13.

 

Trivia tidbit: Thirteen Nittany Lions caught at least one reception last week against Maryland, the second time Penn State receivers have hit that mark (Idaho).

 

Predictions

John Patishnock: Penn State 45, Purdue 14 

 

Vincent Lungaro: Penn State 41, Purdue 10 

Penn State Preview: Maryland

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Each week throughout the 2019 season, we’ll tell you what to expect, what to keep an eye on, and where and when you can catch the Nittany Lions on fall Saturdays. 

Game details: No. 12/11 Penn State @ Maryland, 8:00 p.m., broadcast on Fox Sports 1. 

Venue: Capital One Field at Maryland Stadium

Weather forecast (via AccuWeather): Kick-off temperature of 73 degrees, mostly clear skies. 

The line: Penn State – 6.5 

Last week: Both teams enter this Week 5 matchup coming off a bye. 

All-time series: Penn State leads 39-2-1.  

Last meeting (2018): Penn State dominated Maryland, 38-3, on Senior Day a season ago. Trace McSorley opened the scoring on Penn State’s first possession of the game, running into the end zone from three yards out. McSorley capped off his home career for the Nittany Lions with 230 yards and a touchdown through the air, plus an additional 71 yards and a pair of touchdowns on the ground. 

Throwback classic (1993): Since Penn State scored 79 points in its Week 1 win over Idaho, take a look back at another 70-point showing for the Nittany Lions in their 70-7 thrashing of Maryland in 1993. 

Overview: The Terrapins have come down to earth a bit after a scorching start to the season. Maryland opened with blowout wins over Howard and then-No. 21 Syracuse, which earned the Terrapins a spot in the Top-25. They then put up a dud in Week 3 at Temple, falling 20-17. Penn State, meanwhile, crushed Idaho in Week 1 and produced an excellent second half to down Buffalo 45-13. Week 3 saw the Nittany Lions hold off Pitt 17-10. Add all that up, and it’s really difficult to predict how Friday night’s matchup is going to unfold. Which version of each team will we see? 

Penn State wins if: The offensive line gives Sean Clifford time to throw downfield. Clifford was under duress a lot against Pitt, and turned in an uneven performance because of it (14-of-30 for 222 yards and zero touchdowns). He’s going to have to have a much better day connecting with the likes of KJ Hamler and Pat Freiermuth, who was held to just one catch against Pitt, if Penn State is going to get the road dub. 

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Maryland wins if: The Maryland rushing attack has a big day. The Terrapins want to run the football and run it often. Like Penn State, they have a rotation of running backs they like to use throughout the game. Anthony McFarland remains their bell cow and most explosive weapon out of the backfield despite the rotation. If he and the rest of the running backs get going, it will open up the passing game for Josh Jackson, and make life really difficult on the Penn State defense. 

Count On: A sea of white amidst the Maryland “blackout” in the stands. Penn State fans have been encouraged to wear white. With only about a four-hour drive separating the two campuses, and with plenty of Penn State alumni and fans in the Washington, D.C. area, there should be a heavy Nittany Lion presence throughout the stadium. 

Keep an eye on: Yetur Gross-Matos. Gross-Matos blew up the Maryland rushing attack in the 2018 matchup between the two teams, doing a great job of setting the edge on multiple occasions and getting into the backfield with 3.5 tackles-for-loss. Penn State is going to need him at his best in this year’s game, both in disrupting the ground game and getting after Josh Jackson. After being held without a sack or a tackle against Pitt, I expect Gross-Matos to bounce back and shine in Week 5. 

Trivia tidbit: Penn State hasn’t given up a touchdown to Maryland in the last two meetings, crushing the Terrapins 66-3 in 2017 and winning 38-3 a season ago. As good as the Nittany Lion defense is, I expect that to change Friday night. 

Predictions

John Patishnock: Penn State 38, Maryland 30 

Vincent Lungaro: Penn State 27, Maryland 23

Penn State Preview: Buffalo

Penn State v. Idaho 79-7 (Photo by Steve Manuel)

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Each week, we’ll tell you what to expect, what to keep an eye on, and where and when you can catch the Nittany Lions on fall Saturdays this season.

 

Game details: No. 15/14 Penn State vs. Buffalo, 7:30 p.m., broadcast on FOX.

 

Venue: Beaver Stadium, where Penn State boasts an all-time record of 291-74. 

 

Weather forecast (via AccuWeather): High of 73 degrees, partly sunny and pleasant.

 

The line: Penn State – 28.5

 

Last week: Penn State pounded Idaho 79-7, while Buffalo defeated Robert Morris 38-10.

 

All-time series: Penn State leads 2-1.  

 

Last meeting (2015): Penn State won 27-14 at a soggy Beaver Stadium. This game also represented the beginning of the legend of Saquon Barkley, who pulled off the first of his many impressive hurdles over an unsuspecting Bulls defender. Barkley also scored a touchdown and ran for more than 100 yards in his first home game.

 

Throwback classic (1900): We’ll give this category to the Bulls, who defeated Penn State 10-0 at Buffalo. While William “Pop” Golden led the Nittany Lions, the Bulls played without a coach.

 

Overview: The one question everyone seems to be asking is “Just how good is this Penn State team?” There’s a ton of talent, and perhaps more experience than some fans think — thanks to guys redshirting and getting game reps last year — though can this year’s Nittany Lions compete for a Big Ten title? It’ll probably be another month before we have a clear answer, though they can continue to impress Saturday against another overmatched opponent. However, Buffalo is capable of making this competitive. The Bulls won a school-record 10 games last season, winning the MAC East Division. Buffalo rushed for 285 yards last week in its season-opening victory against Robert Morris, though Penn State’s impressive defensive front will (obviously) present a much, much bigger challenge. Still, it might be good for Penn State’s long-term interest if the team faces more pushback before facing Pitt and the Big Ten slate.

 

Penn State wins if: the Nittany Lions avoid mistakes. Penn State clearly has more talent, size, and strength, and it’s difficult seeing Buffalo sustain long drives the entire game. Don’t give the Bulls a short field and stay on schedule offensively, and Penn State should have a carousel of reserves see game time this Saturday, too.

 

Buffalo wins if: Penn State loses it. Even if the Bulls play a near-perfect game, chances are it still won’t be enough to pull off a historic upset. Making a few plays early will certainly help, and if this were a noon kickoff, maybe that could be more probably, though a primetime kick at Beaver Stadium will have all of Happy Valley rocking from the start.

 

Count on: another running back rotation. It worked so well the first week, so why change anything? Five backs combined for seven rushing touchdowns, and the offensive line should have its way against the Bulls. Chances are no one back will get more than 12-15 carries (Noah Cain’s nine attempts against Idaho were a team-high mark), so look for the most talented group of running backs in the country to once again share carries.

 

Keep an eye on: Jahan Dotson. The sophomore wide receiver was quiet last week, totaling just one catch for 13 yards. Dotson has plenty of speed and has earned the praise of coaches and teammates in the fall, and this could be the week when he begins to post numbers that match his big-time talent.

 

Trivia tidbit: Penn State has been ranked in the AP poll for the last 41 weeks — the fifth-longest streak in the country. It’s also the fifth-longest mark in program history.

 

Predictions

John Patishnock: Penn State 48, Buffalo 13 

 

Vince Lungaro: Penn State 50, Buffalo 13

Penn State preview: Idaho

Penn State v. PITT (Photo by Steve Manuel)

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Each week, we’ll tell you what to expect, what to keep an eye on, and where and when you can catch the Nittany Lions on fall Saturdays this season.

 

Game details: No. 15/14 Penn State vs. Idaho, 3:30 p.m., broadcast on BTN.

 

Venue: Beaver Stadium, where Penn State boasts an all-time record of 290-74. 

 

Weather forecast (via AccuWeather): High of 75 degrees, with sun and some clouds. 

 

The line: Penn State –36.5.

 

All-time series: First meeting. 

 

Overview: Penn State football returns to Happy Valley. Although there are many compelling storylines for this year’s Nittany Lions, the real story is that football is back. How will Sean Clifford fare in his first career start? What will the running back rotation look like? On the other side of the ball, just how dominant can the defense be this year? We’ll get a first look at a clearly overmatched opponent that shouldn’t push Penn State too much. Make the necessary plays and stay healthy. That’s this weekend’s game plan for the Nittany Lions. 

 

Penn State wins if: the Blue Buses find their way to the stadium.

 

Idaho wins if: We could try to concoct a maze of “this, then that,” scenarios, though we’ll give our readers the benefit of knowing better. Idaho, an FCS opponent, isn’t winning Saturday.

 

Count on: a feel-good vibe all day long. With a mid-afternoon kick and a gorgeous forecast, fans have plenty to look forward to: tailgating, watching (what should be) a comfortable win, and enjoying a wonderful weekend in Happy Valley. 

 

Keep an eye on: Will Levis. Even though Sean Clifford was named the starter (as expected), Saturday’s contest shouldn’t be close in the second half. Maybe James Franklin keeps Clifford in the majority of the game so he can build up game reps, though it wouldn’t be surprising if Levis leads at least a couple of drives. So, both quarterbacks might have a chance to show off their arm in the season opener.

 

Trivia tidbit: Penn State is one of only two teams in the country who have recorded at least 14 consecutive winning seasons, and also been ranked in the AP poll for the last 40-plus weeks. The other team? Oklahoma.

 

Predictions

John Patishnock: Penn State 45, Idaho 7 

 

Vincent Lungaro: Penn State 59, Idaho 10