Gophers upset Penn State: Six things we learned
1. TANNER MORGAN IS AN ALL-BIG TEN QB
Tanner Morgan was near-perfect on Saturday, going 18/20 for 339 yards, three touchdowns, zero interceptions, and a 281.9 passer rating. Everyone talked up Penn State’s run defense before the game, but the PSU pass defense isn’t shabby either; before the game, the Nittany Lions were 12th nationally in yards allowed/attempt and 5th in average opponent passer rating.
Morgan has been thought of as a good passer and capable game manager, but it’s time to start talking about him on another level: an All-Big Ten quarterback. Sure, he has lots of talent around him at the skill positions, but he has continually made big plays for the offense and Minnesota wouldn’t be 9-0 without him.
“He’s a winner,” Fleck summed up perfectly after the game.
2. ANTOINE WINFIELD JR. IS ONE OF THE TOP DEFENSIVE PLAYERS IN THE COUNTRY
Antoine Winfield Jr. tied a Minnesota single-season school record by snagging his sixth and seventh interception today. Winfield was not only a ball hawk but led the team in tackles.
He’s the highest-graded safety in the country, according to PFF College, and should be a First Team All-American this season. Winfield Jr. is Minnesota’s best defensive player since who, Tyrone Carter?
3. MINNESOTA'S OFFENSIVE LINE CONTINUES TO IMPROVE
Penn State’s stout defensive line was talked about a lot leading up to the game; the Nittany Lions were first nationally in opponent rushing yards/attempt (2.2). The entire front seven grades out in the top quartile according to PFF College and will contend for All-Big Ten honors. Today, Minnesota won the battle at the line of scrimmage.
Minnesota’s line started off the season slow, probably losing at the line in all three non-conference games. However, they’ve won at the line in all six Big Ten games, and to do so against Penn State’s defensive line shows just how incredible of a rate at which the unit has improved. In 2017 and 2018, Minnesota’s line also started the season slow and improved significantly as the year progressed.
An interesting look Minnesota used a handful of times today was a jumbo package: six lineman on the field. The Gophers did this even on a pass play in the fourth quarter. Fleck has said before that he considers the offense having six starters on the offensive line, thanks to the depth that John Michael Schmitz brings and versatility of Blaise Andries.
4. PENN STATE'S SECONDARY WAS NO MATCH FOR BATEMAN AND JOHNSON
There are a handful of games that Minnesota would not have won this season without exceptional plays from their receivers. Today was no different.
Rashod Bateman caught all seven passes thrown his way for 203 yards and one touchdown. His 203 receiving yards were the most ever by a Gopher in a Big Ten game and second-most in school history in any game, trailing just Ryan Thelwell’s 228 against Ball State in 1996.
Penn State bracketed Tyler Johnson for much of the first half, and Rashod Bateman made them pay. The Gophers have arguably the three best receivers since Eric Decker on their roster in Johnson, Bateman, and Chris Autman-Bell. All need to be accounted for, which makes it hard to play coverages specific to one player. While Bateman put up the biggest numbers today, Tyler Johnson and Chris Autman-Bell also had highlight reel plays: Johnson’s being a phenomenal sideline catch and broken tackle touchdown, and Autman-Bell’s tunnel screen touchdown in which he broke multiple tackles, as well.
5. NO MARTIN, NO PROBLEM
Minnesota was without Kamal Martin again today; Martin suffered an injury against Rutgers and missed the Maryland game. Mariano Sori-Marin played admirably in both games and did so again today. Kamal Martin is a likely NFL draft pick this spring and makes for big shoes to fill.
Braelen Oliver also seemed to get more snaps today than usual outside the normal passing down packages he’s a part of. TGR will have grades and snap counts posted Sunday from PFF College.
6. MINNESOTA IS READY FOR THE SPOTLIGHT
Today was perhaps Minnesota’s biggest game in TCF Bank Stadium history and the first truly nationally-relevant game anyone on the roster had played before.
In every interview, the Gophers talk about their “four walls” and how Fleck’s culture is meant to process building pressure and noise and not let it affect performance. But with more pressure than ever against a top 5 opponent used to playing in nationally-relevant games, were the Gophers ready for the spotlight? The answer: yes. Minnesota threw the first punch – an Antoine Winfield Jr. interception – got out to an early 14-7 lead, and played fairly mistake-free football.