Upon Further Review: Don’t blame Penn State, credit Gophers for win

No one said it would be easy – and it wasn’t.

Sweating it out until the final minute, Minnesota got an interception in the end zone with 1:01 to play to seal the biggest Gophers win in recent history, a 31-26 victory over previously unbeaten Penn State, which was No. 4 in the College Football Playoff rankings (and ranked No. 5 in the Associated Press poll).

The Gophers were No. 17 in the CFP rankings, four slots lower than their AP ranking, mainly due to an unimposing schedule. That’s true no longer.

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Minnesota came out with a purpose, playing to the stature of the moment, coming up with the big plays when needed and never folding (although it got a little dicey).

Penn State had some head-scratching moments including not going for a touchdown at the end of the first half with the ball at the one, going for a two-point conversion in the third quarter, its love of the goal-line fade and some key drops.

But don’t blame the Nittany Lions for this loss (or the refs, who had some bad moments as well). Credit Minnesota.

The Gophers limited their mistakes – one turnover, which Penn State did turn into points – and weren’t intimidated by a Nittany Lions defense which came into the game second in the nation in points allowed (they hadn’t allowed more than 21 points in a game all season; Minnesota topped that in the first half); and ninth in yards allowed.

Minnesota took it right to Penn State – especially through the air as quarterback Tanner Morgan completed 18 of 20 passes for 339 yards with a touchdown pass to each of his three top wide receivers (who also accounted for all but one of Minnesota’s receiving yards).

It took a while for Penn State to get its offense going, but some timely interceptions helped Minnesota’s cause and now it is the Gophers, not the Nittany Lions, who stand at 9-0.

When the clock hit 0:00, Minnesota players celebrated and fans rushed the field. That’s what winninig a big game feels like. It’s been a while since one happened in Dinkytown. No more.

The same could be said about anyone who is discounting Minnesota.

Here’s a recap of Saturday’s game:


Two players helped set the tone early for Minnesota. One was Rashod Bateman. On the Gophers’ first drive, Bateman got open on the sideline and, after a badly missed tackle, raced 66 yards for a touchdown. Penn State would have trouble containing Bateman all game. The wide receiver kept getting open – sometimes comically so – and finished with seven catches on as many targets for 203 yards and the score. All of Bateman’s catches ended up in a first down or touchdown – a good feat regardless but even more so considering Minnesota had at get at least nine yards to pick up a first on each of his receptions. Bateman finished just shy of the Gophers record for receiving yards – 228 by Ryan Thelwell against Ball State in 1996 – but he’s the only other player in program history to reach 200.


The other player who set the tone was Antoine Winfield Jr. On the game’s first drive, Winfield picked off a deep pass, his sixth interception of the year. Minnesota would then score on Bateman’s touchdown. Winfield came up with interception No. 2 on the day in the second quarter on a pass near the goal line. Three plays later, the Gophers scored. Winfield’s seven interceptions ties a school record, also done by Jeff Wright in 1970. To cap things off, the safety finished with a team-high 11 tackles, nine solo.


In a roller-coaster finish, Minnesota ended with the final thrill. Needing a touchdown to win, Penn State nearly never had a chance to win, muffing a punt, but recoverin at its own 28. The Nitanny Lions then marched down the field and got into red zone and nearly got into the end zone but a penalty wiped out the play. Still, Penn State had the momentum. However, quarterback Sean Clifford then threw behind a receiver in the end zone with Jordan Howden intercepting the pass, sealing the win – and beginning the jubilation.


As mentioned above, Penn State was ranked No.5 in the AP top-25 poll. This win broke an eight-game losing streak for Minnesota against top-five ranked teams, the last victory coming in 1999. The victory wiped away other losing streaks as well as the Gophers hadn’t had much success against any ranked team in years. This broke a 15-game winless streak against top-10 teams (last win: 2000), a 21-game streak vs. top-15 teams (2005), 33 vs. top-20 (2005) and 13 vs. top-25 (2014).


“We have been practicing for these pressure moments since January. We are doing everything we said we could do and not what everyone else was saying. Whether it was Antoine’s picks, the last play with Jordan Howden, look at how well our wide receivers played, the pass protection, the way we were able to run the ball. We did what we had to do to find a way to win the game against one heck of a football team on the other side.” — head coach P.J. Fleck

“Man, it was unbelievable. I just got up and saw my teammates and my fans going crazy. I just do it for the team.” — Jordan Howden on his interception

“We knew we could do it, but I am pretty sure the outside world didn’t think we could. We just came out here and gave it our all for each other. We knew we could do it as long as we stuck together.” — safety Antoine Winfield Jr.

“When they rushed the field, that’s a moment I’ll never forget.” — quarterback Tanenr Morgan

“It is incredible. I cannot even put it into words. It is just a special moment for the state of Minnesota right now.” — wide receiver Rashod Bateman


Minnesota hits the road for a 3 p.m. game at Iowa. The Hawkeyes lost a 24-22 squeaker at Wisconsin on Saturday to fall to 6-3. Iowa still has a very outside chance to win the Big Ten West, but a Gophers win would take care of that. The Hawkeyes’ offense has struggled all year but the defense has been solid, although they allowed 300 rushing yards and a season-high in points to the Badgers.