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Gophers find rock bottom in Happy Valley

Minnesota’s season is completely off the rails

Minnesota v Penn State Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

The Minnesota Golden Gophers (4-3) dropped their third straight game Saturday night after getting walloped in primetime, 45-17, by the No. 16-ranked Penn State Nittany Lions (6-1).

The Gophers were without starting quarterback Tanner Morgan, who was held out of the game due to a concussion suffered the previous week, snapping his streak of 45 consecutive starts. Redshirt freshman quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis made his first career start, finishing 9-of-22 for 175 passing yards with one touchdown and one interception.

The Gophers struck first, set up by a Justin Walley interception in the first quarter. Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford took a deep shot but overthrew his intended receiver and sailed the ball into the open arms of Walley, who returned it all the way to Nittany Lions’ 14-yard line. Minnesota’s ensuing drive went nowhere, thanks in part to a false start penalty on third down, but Matthew Trickett’s 35-yard field goal capitalized on the field position to give them a 3-0 lead.

Unfortunately, Penn State went on to score 17 unanswered points. Jake Pinegar’s 42-yard field goal minutes into the second quarter knotted the score at 3-3. That scoring drive exposed a vulnerability in the Gophers’ secondary, as Clifford connected with tight end Theo Johnson twice for a total of 43 yards. The Nittany Lions went back to that well on their next drive, finding tight end Tyler Warren wide open in the middle of the field for a 38-yard go-ahead touchdown. After another Minnesota three-and-out, Clifford led another scoring drive for Penn State, connecting with Johnson for an 18-yard touchdown. The officiating crew missed a blatant hold on Jalen Logan-Redding, adding salt on the wound as the Nittany Lions took a 17-3 lead.

Desperate for a sign of life with minutes left in the first half, Gopher quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis dropped a dime down the sideline to Le’Meke Brockington for a 33-yard gain on the third down, marking Minnesota’s first third down conversion of the night. Kaliakmanis and running back Mohamed Ibrahim took it from there, rushing for three consecutive first downs to get the Gophers inside the red zone. Ibrahim scored from three yards out to cut Penn State’s lead to 17-10 before the half and cap a much-needed nine-play, 90-yard scoring drive for Minnesota.

The second half was a complete disaster, especially for the Gopher defense. The Nittany Lions had five possessions and all but one of them ended in a touchdown. The turning point came on Minnesota’s second possession of the half. Trailing 24-10, the Gophers drove down to the Penn State 34-yard line, at which point Kaliakmanis threw deep to Mike Brown-Stephens. Brown-Stephens was held by the cornerback and then shoved to the ground before safety Ji’Ayir Brown snagged an easy interception. The play should have been overturned due to defensive pass interference, but the officiating crew declined to call the obvious penalty.

Clifford finished 23-of-31 for 295 passing yards and threw for four touchdowns. Penn State running backs Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen combined for 156 rushing yards on 28 carries, averaging 5.5 yards per carry. Singleton scored a pair of touchdowns on the ground.

The lone bright spot of the night for Minnesota was Ibrahim, who rushed for 102 yards and a touchdown, extending his streak of games with 100+ rushing yards to 15.