It was quite simply the same result every time. Forsberg’s foot was just never, ever able to heal.
Now switch the mindset to Penn State teams of the 2000s and replace the Forsberg un-retirement attempts with a Joe Paterno-coached team going on the road to play against a conference opponent. Penn State fans would get all geeked up starting on the lead-in Thursday and, even though they knew what was actually going to happen, would think to themselves, “This time it’s really going to be different. Joe is going to change things up – he’s not going to roll out the same old conservative road game plan and we’ll have a serious chance to win this one.”
It is no longer the 2000s (according to a certain crack research team, this current decade is officially called the “twenty-tens”), Bill O’Brien is now in charge and Peter Forsberg is in Isla de sa Ferradura waking up next to the hottest female walking the planet. This is a new era, and with that comes optimism about Penn State’s ability to win conference road games; O’Brien proved last season that he’s not only capable of it – screw that – but can destroy Big Ten teams in their own building.
In 2012, Penn State beat Illinois 35-7 in Champaign, kicked Kirk Ferentz in the romper, 38-14, at Kinnick and embarrassed Purdue in its own barn by a 34-9 margin.
Granted, that was with Matt McGloin and Ted Roof, but you get the point (right?).
Back in August, the discussion here was how under Paterno, this would be the ultimate trap-game loss. Forget that – traps are no longer the issue; rather, Minnesota’s 7-2 record and three-game conference win streak is. It’s quite remarkable how this team has overcome the distraction of its head coach’s health issues. The entire Minnesota program deserves a ton of credit for both its on-the-field success and support of Jerry Kill.
So far this season, both of O’Brien’s attempts in road conference action have been disasters. Strike that – unmitigated disasters. But in 2013, Penn State fans have yet to see a complete team effort in any capacity; home, road, non-conference or league play. Tomorrow would be a fitting time for the first time.
Minnesota is the 20th-ranked team in the nation in terms of rushing offense (221 yards per game). The Nittany Lions are 53rd in rush defense (sure, the debacle against Ohio State skews that number slightly, but unfortunately this is not Bi Sci 004 in Schwab Auditorium in which the lowest test score gets dropped). Matchup, meet matchup. It is imperative that Larry Johnson’s front four stuff the run to the best of their collective ability, particularly on first down. David Cobb, who is currently averaging 5.43 yards per carry, must be stopped from gaining significant yardage early in the Gophers’ offensive series. In addition, Glenn Carson and Mike Hull need to perform at optimum level in the gaps. If that doesn’t happen, it’ll be a long day.
If par is 72, then Adrian Amos will start at cornerback opposite Jordan Lucas, which means that John Butler is loading up for a traffic jam in the box. Because holding the advantage with regards to time of possession is such a staple of Minnesota’s philosophy, that’s a smart choice. Trevor Williams has struggled to find his way just yet and the move to replace him with Amos is basically Butler placing all his chips on the Don’t Come line (with backup odds, no doubt) by putting his best athletes on that island in one-on-one coverage for the whole game. All other troops will be front and center within five yards of the ball.
No reinventing the wheel, no crazy hidden blitz packages, no stunt schemes. Just play the averages. Team A needs to stop Team B from running the football to win. And the way to do that is, again, simply do what the book says. Put extra bodies near the line of scrimmage, go hat-on-hat, and see which side has more will and brute strength.
Translation: Billy Belton could see 30-plus carries and Zach Zwinak may get another 15. This could turn into a 1985 Special, which would be glorious. Anybody who loved last night’s performance by David Shaw’s offense in Palo Alto feels the same. Penn State is a better football team than Minnesota. If the aforementioned complete team effort – the offense, defense and special teams all play strong, mistake-free football – finally rears its head, the Nittany Lions should win this game by a minimum of 10 points. O’Brien has better athletes and is the better coach.
For the trend junkies out there, try this one on for size: the last time Minnesota won four straight conference games in one season was 1973.
Last and most definitely with intention least, don’t forget the most important aspect of this contest. Should Penn State depart from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport as the victor, an important visitor will take a seat on the flight back to SCE – that pesky Governor’s Victory Bell.
“Grab the stewardess, Vaughn – I need one of those bags.”