Rapid Reaction: P.J. Fleck, Minnesota send clear message to CFP Committee with upset of No. 4 Penn State
Final Score: No. 4 Penn State 26, No. 17 Minnesota 31
Brief Recap: Saturday’s big-time matchup in Minneapolis did not disappoint! James Franklin and the Nittany Lions entered the game looking to take down Minnesota, but it was P.J. Fleck’s Gopher squad that looked the part of a Top-10 squad. The Golden Gophers hit the ground running with 199 total yards in the first quarter of action, including long touchdown throws to Rashod Bateman and Chris Autman-Bell. Minnesota ended the half with 24 points, the most allowed by Penn State for a game all season long. The second half developed into more of a back-and-forth defensive struggle, but the Gophers did enough to keep Sean Clifford and the Nittany Lions in check while pushing across a crucial second-half touchdown.
Key Moment: Minnesota’s touchdown early in the fourth quarter was crucial, but the deciding moment came with a minute to go in the game. With Penn State driving deep into Minnesota territory, it appeared the Nittany Lions may score a go-ahead touchdown with moments to go in the game. Then, Sean Clifford threw a crucial interception, effectively ending the game.
While it was a great play for Minnesota, it was not without some controversy. One Penn State receiver was clearly arguing for a flag and appeared to be held on the play. However, it was hard to tell if the pass was intended for him or not as the throw wound up closer to a Penn State receiver beyond him. In the end, it went down as a turnover and game-sealing pick for the Gophers.
Key Stat: 3, number of interceptions thrown by Penn State’s Sean Clifford. Clifford threw three costly turnovers and that led Minnesota to post a +2 turnover differential for the game. The Gophers also scored 14 points off of those turnovers, proving to be the difference in the game.
Key Player: There’s no doubt this goes to Minnesota QB Tanner Morgan. It’s hard to believe in Week 11 that Morgan was locked in a fall camp battle for the starting position with Zack Annexstad before Annexstad was injured. Against Penn State, Morgan went 18-for-20 passing with 339 yards and three touchdowns to three different receivers. And before anyone discredits Morgan’s efficiency, he did it in a plethora of ways. Short slants, screen passes, deep balls, and crossing routes: Morgan did his best for the Gophers and was masterful all game long.
What it Means for Penn State: The season is not over for the Nittany Lions. However, the matchup with Ohio State now takes on new importance. A win against the Buckeyes puts Penn State back in the driver’s seat for the B1G East, and a win in the B1G Championship Game would make a big case to the Playoff Committee that they belong in the final four. For now, the margin for error the rest of the way is incredibly slim. Any slip up likely ends the season with a second loss.
What it Means for Minnesota: For the Gophers, they have now made a big statement win for the Playoff Committee to deal with. They received a No. 17 ranking on the initial results, but Minnesota should be much higher on the rankings next time around. Whether or not the Committee agrees remains to be seen. On a bigger picture, Minnesota maintains at least a two-game lead in the B1G West over the winner of Wisconsin-Iowa. If the Gophers can beat those two teams and capture the B1G Championship Game, we’d love to hear the Committee try and rationalize keeping an undefeated Minnesota squad out of the Playoff.