James Franklin looks at Minnesota and knows his unbeaten Lions will have to deal with the Golden Gophers’ talented offensive line and rangy wideouts. Penn State is 3-0 on the road and the Blue and White has only allowed 19 points in those contests.
The Lions are roughly a touchdown favorite but cold weather and an early start (11 a.m. CST) could possibly work against the No. 5 team in the country.
Here are Penn State’s keys to victory …
1. The Lions’ defense must continue its impressive play in the red zone. In two of Penn State’s tightest contests, Franklin’s defense has made huge, late-game stands against Pittsburgh and Michigan to preserve seven-point leads. The Lions have allowed just eight touchdowns in 16 opponents’ trips inside the red zone. Minnesota’s offense has scored 32 touchdowns on 40 red-zone possessions.
2. Eliminate the special teams’ mistakes. Too many flags. Dangerous Penn State return man KJ Hamler had a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown vs. Michigan nullfied by a penalty and a 50-yard punt return for a touchdown against Michigan State wiped out by another penalty. Clean it up.
3. Continue to minimize turnovers. Penn State’s turnover margin is plus-7. The play of redshirt sophomore quarterback Sean Clifford has played a major role in the Lions’ low turnover rate. Clifford has thrown 20 touchdown passes and he’s been intercepted just three times.
4. Limit Minnesota’s big-play tandem of Tyler Johnson and Rashod Bateman. The Gophers’ top receivers cause problems with their size and athleticism. Both players are 6-2 and in the 210-pound range. They have combined for 74 receptions, 1,270 yards (17.2 yards per catch) and 13 touchdowns.