MINN at PSU Preivew
University Park, PA - Penn State's defense has never been a question mark this season, and its once-shaky offense seems to be turning the corner after a sloppy start.
Minnesota's offense, on the other hand, remains a work in progress.
That could be bad news for the Golden Gophers on Saturday at Beaver Stadium, where the 14th-ranked Nittany Lions look to turn the Big Ten's top-ranked defense loose on the conference's lowest-rated offense.
Oddsmakers from online sports book SPORTSBETTING.com have made Penn State -17 point spread favorites (View College Football odds) for Saturday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 51% of bets for this game have been placed on Penn State -17 (View College Football bet percentages).
Penn State (5-1, 1-1) turned the ball over six times during its first three games, and though it outscored its opponents 90-20 in cruising to a 3-0 start, coach Joe Paterno's team hardly looked like the offensive juggernaut it was during last season's Rose Bowl run.
Those inconsistencies caught up with the Nittany Lions in their conference opener, as they committed four turnovers and were held to 307 total yards in a 21-10 home loss to then-unranked Iowa.
Penn State has picked it up offensively in its last two games, averaging 533.0 yards - including an impressive 311.5 on the ground - in a pair of easy victories. Evan Royster and Stephfon Green each topped 100 yards rushing in a 35-17 win at Illinois on Oct. 3, then Daryll Clark threw for three touchdowns and ran for another in a 52-3 rout of Football Championship Subdivision foe Eastern Illinois last Saturday.
"We're not anywhere near as good as where we have to be, but we think we are a better football team than three or four weeks ago,'' Paterno said. "We played with a little more poise.''
The Nittany Lions' defense has been tough all season, allowing 255.7 yards per game to rank eighth in the nation in total defense and sixth in scoring defense (10.2 points per game). But considering the highest-ranked offense Penn State has beaten was Illinois - 84th at 341.6 yards per game - it's difficult to gauge how good defensive coordinator Tom Bradley's unit is.
Minnesota's offense fits right in with the rest of the struggling groups the Nittany Lions have faced, with the Golden Gophers (4-2, 2-1) ranking 99th in total offense (319.7 yards per game).
Minnesota does, however, boast the best receiving threat in the conference in All-Big Ten senior wideout Eric Decker. Decker caught 84 passes for 1,074 yards as a junior, and he's well on pace to top that with 46 receptions and 689 yards - good for third in the country - through six games.
"I think we'll know a lot more (about our secondary) after this week," Paterno said.
Decker had four catches for 66 yards and a touchdown against Penn State as a freshman in 2006 in a 28-27 overtime loss at the Metrodome in the last meeting between the teams.
"He has great hands so we have to be physical with him," Nittany Lions cornerback A.J. Wallace said of Decker, a 27th round draft pick of the Minnesota Twins in June. "We know they're going to go at him early and try to get him involved, to get him in his rhythm."
Decker will be trying to atone for his least productive game of the season, when he hauled in three catches for 50 yards - part of a mere 74-yard passing day for quarterback Adam Weber - against Purdue last Saturday. The Gophers, though, ran for 207 yards and four touchdowns and returned a blocked field goal for a touchdown in sealing their first conference victory at new TCF Bank Stadium, 35-20.
Minnesota had averaged 96.0 yards on the ground coming in.
"It's just been a matter of time," Weber said. "More reps, and an attitude and a big drive or play gains confidence, especially for those front five guys. They kind of build off each other, and when the running backs are running as hard as they are it's kind of a back and forth thing."
Penn State is eighth in the nation in rushing defense - allowing 81.8 yards per game - largely thanks to a line anchored by tackle Jared Odrick.
The Nittany Lions might be even tougher to run on if they get linebacker Sean Lee back Saturday. Lee, who was on the All-Big Ten second team as a junior in 2007, missed last season with a torn right ACL and has been out since spraining his left knee Sept. 19 against Temple.
Lee said Tuesday he feels as if he's ready to go, though Paterno cautioned the team doctor would have the final say.
Penn State has won six of 10 meetings against Minnesota, including three of five in Happy Valley, since joining the conference in 1993. The Nittany Lions have never lost consecutive home games to unranked Big Ten opponents.
Posted: 10/13/09 11:26PM ET