Gophers pull off signature stunner
Minnesota earns its 1st win over a top-5 team since 1999
MINNEAPOLIS — The progress made by Minnesota in coach P.J. Fleck’s third season had been met by natural skepticism outside the long-languishing program, with even the most ardent fans in full prove-it mode for this game of unbeaten teams against Penn State.
From start to finish, the Gophers matched the moment. They The Gophers took down the Nittany Lions with a narrative-altering performance.
Jordan Howden picked off Sean Clifford’s pass in the end zone with 1:01 left, the third interception thrown by Penn State’s quarterback, and 13th-ranked Minnesota held on for a 31-26 victory on Saturday afternoon for its first win over a top-five team since topping Penn State in 1999.
“I’m just so proud to be a Gopher, and I speak for our whole team when I say that,” said Fleck, who declared the game ball he handed afterward to the school president for the entire state.
Tanner Morgan passed for 339 yards and three touchdowns in a dismantling of fifth-ranked Penn State’s staunch defense, as Minnesota (9-0, 6-0, No. 17 CFP) stayed on track for its first trip to the Big Ten championship game.
The first sellout crowd for the Gophers at home in four years swarmed the field after the clock ran out, reveling in the first win at home over a top-five team since a shutout of No. 1 Michigan in 1977. The Gophers scrambled the College Football Playoff picture a bit, too, after Penn State (8-1, 5-1, No. 4 CFP) emerged with a top-four spot in the first edition of the rankings.
“We knew they were a good football team,” Nittany Lions coach James Franklin said. “It’s hard to be undefeated.”
Rashod Bateman got the Gophers going with a 66-yard score on their first possession that covered 95 yards. He finished with seven catches for 203 yards, the second-most in program history. Tyler Johnson had seven receptions for 104 yards and a touchdown. And Morgan went 18 for 20, his second game of the season with a 90% or better completion rate.
Journey Brown’s second rushing touchdown of the game with 3:49 to go cut the lead to five points, and the Gophers promptly went three and out. K.J. Hamler muffed the punt when a teammate backed into him, and though the Nittany Lions recovered, they were pushed back to their 28-yard line.
Clifford, who went 23 for 43 for 340 yards and one score, connected with Jahan Dotson for 49 yards to get Penn State to the 11. Two plays later, however, came the drive killer. Daniel George was called for offensive pass interference during an over-the-middle catch by Brown that reached the 2. Clifford overthrew George on the next play before the game-sealing pick by Howden.
Minnesota players raise the Governor’s Victory Bell after Saturday’s upset of Penn State.