No. 16 Penn State will aim to regain its footing after being run over in its most recent outing when it hosts Big Ten rival Minnesota on Saturday night in State College, Pa.
The Nittany Lions (5-1, 2-1) tumbled six spots in The Associated Press Top 25 poll after surrendering 418 yards rushing in a 41-17 setback to then-No. 5 Michigan last Saturday.
Penn State will bid to tie up loose ends this Saturday during its annual “White Out” game.
As for whether Nittany Lions starting quarterback Sean Clifford will be under center on Saturday remains to be seen. Clifford exited last week’s game late in the third quarter due to an undisclosed injury, prompting freshman Drew Allar to oversee the team’s last two offensive series.
“As you guys know, unless it’s a season-ending injury, I typically don’t announce that,” coach James Franklin said Tuesday of Clifford’s health status. “… Nothing has changed with the plan or the model at this stage.”
Franklin was blunt when asked about calls for Allar to get the start against Minnesota.
“No. 1, that’s the wrong message. That’s the wrong signal,” Franklin said. “Sean has earned the right to be on the field.”
Clifford threw for 340 yards and a touchdown in Penn State’s last meeting with Minnesota but was intercepted three times in a 31-26 loss on Nov. 9, 2019.
The Nittany Lions’ Nicholas Singleton is averaging a robust 7.0 yards per carry. He leads the team in rushing yards (482) and rushing touchdowns (five). Kaytron Allen posted his fourth rushing touchdown of the season last week.
Like Penn State, Minnesota (4-2, 1-2) is bidding to get back on its feet. The Golden Gophers won their first four games by a combined 183-24 score before dropping a 20-10 decision to Purdue on Oct. 1 and falling 26-14 at then-No. 24 Illinois last Saturday.
Also like Penn State, Minnesota has injury concerns.
Starting quarterback Tanner Morgan sustained a head injury against the Fighting Illini, although coach P.J. Fleck isn’t ruling him out vs. the Nittany Lions.
Fleck, on Monday, said that decision will be made by the team’s medical staff.
“That stuff is out of my hands,” Fleck said. “I just know that he appreciates all the prayers, thoughts, support and text messages from everybody. I know we do, as well, as a team. … But he’s in our medical care, under that umbrella right now. He’s doing very well.”
If Morgan is unable to play, the Golden Gophers will turn to either junior Cole Kramer or sophomore Athan Kaliakmanis.
“I like them both,” Fleck said. “Cole’s got a lot more experience, but when you look at Athan, he’s really talented. It’s just what will he be able to process, bring all in, go out there and execute? Those are the decisions we’ll make as we keep going forward. But I’ll have confidence in whoever is out there, that’s for sure.”
Minnesota has relied heavily on Mohamed Ibrahim, who is averaging 138.8 yards rushing per game and has run for at least 100 yards in 14 consecutive games.
–Field Level Media