Penn State nearly rallied from a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter but the Gophers held on to upset the No. 4 Nittany Lions 31-26 Saturday in front of a sold-out crowd at TCF Bank Stadium.
An interception in the end zone by Gophers defensive back Jordan Howden with 1:01 left in the fourth quarter sealed the stunner, lifting the Gophers to 9-0 on the season while the Nittany Lions drop to 8-1.
The tone was set early as Gophers safety Antoine Winfield Jr. intercepted Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford on the opening drive of the game. Five plays and 95 yards later the Gophers led 7-0 thanks to a 66-yard touchdown pass from Tanner Morgan to Rashod Bateman, who killed the Nittany Lions all day.
Moments before Clifford's interception, he was on the sidelines giving a pregame speech that included him saying "f*** their damn boat," a shot at the "Row the Boat" culture developed under Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck.
Nonetheless, the boat was rowing all game as Minnesota's passing offense was a dominant force with Morgan finding Bateman and Johnson for a combined 14 completions for 307 yards and two touchdowns.
Tied 7-7 in the first quarter, Morgan hit Chris Autman-Bell on a bible screen that he took 21 yards to the house to give the Gophers a 14-7 lead.
After a Penn State (8-1) field goal, Morgan lofted a pass that Johnson caught with one hand while tip-toeing the sideline for a 38-yard score.
Morgan finished the first half with 240 yards and three touchdowns while completing 10-of-12 attempts. His go-to targets were, as usual, Johnson and Bateman.
- Bateman 1st half: 4 catches, 131 yards, 1 touchdown
- Johnson 1st half: 4 catches, 87 yards, 1 touchdown
For the game, Morgan finished 18-of-20 for 339 yards and three touchdowns. Bateman hauled in seven catches for 203 yards and Johnson finished with seven receptions for 104 yards.
The victory should vault the Gophers into the top 10 of the national polls, possibly into the top 10 of the College Football Playoff rankings. Penn State was ranked 4th in the CFP poll and Minnesota was 17th, while the Gophers were 13th in the AP Top-25 Poll and Penn State was fifth.
Minnesota can get to 10-0 with a win at 18th-ranked Iowa next Saturday, and they close the season with games at Northwestern and at home against Wisconsin.
If Minnesota wins the Big Ten West they could be a surefire bet to play in the Rose Bowl since reaching Pasadena in 1961 and 1962. But if they run the table and win the Big Ten championship game against (probably) Ohio State, then they could be looking at a spot in the four-team College Football Playoff.