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Memories of Minnesota loss still haunting Penn State

Penn State still is suffering a hangover from the last time Minnesota played at Beaver Stadium.

“The only thing I remember (about that game) is that I try to forget,” Nittany Lions coach Joe Paterno said. “We were in the middle of having a great year, and they came in here and played a heck of a game. We got sloppy, and they beat us.”

On Nov. 6, 1999, Golden Gophers wideout Arland Bruce, a senior with just 14 career catches, snagged a tipped, Hail Mary pass about six inches above grass. Then Dan Nystrom, a true freshman who earlier in the game had missed an extra-point kick, booted a 32-yard field goal as time expired to stun the second-ranked Nittany Lions, 24-23, on homecoming day.

“We went from a losing program to a winning program in one game,” tailback Thomas Hamner said amid the pandemonium in the Gophers locker room.

Since then, both teams have gone 20-19. While that might be seen as making progress at Minnesota, the view at Penn State is far different.

“We went downhill after that,” Paterno said.

Today, Penn State (2-2) will play host to No. 24 Minnesota (4-0) for the first time since 1999. The Gophers also beat the Lions, 25-16, in 2000 at the Metrodome before rotating off the schedule the past two years.

Paterno brought up the 1999 debacle Monday during a squad meeting. Defensive coordinator Tom Bradley watched the game on tape a few days ago and grimaced at the final few plays.

“I remember seeing the highlights on TV,” said Lions quarterback Zack Mills, who was a high school junior at the time. “We talked about it this week. We know from that (game), that they’re not intimidated to come into Beaver Stadium.”

Unlike four years ago, no one will be shocked if Minnesota wins today.

The Gophers cruised through their non-conference schedule, routing Tulsa, Troy State, Ohio and Louisiana-Lafayette by an average of 34 points. They rank second nationally in scoring (46.8 ppg) and rushing (292.8 yards per game), eighth in total offense (486.0 ypg) and fifth in total defense (250.8 ypg).

“They’re a lot like Boston College, except they’ve got a better offensive line,” Bradley said. “They’ve got a lot of kids back from last year’s team, which kicked the crap out of Arkansas in the (Music City) Bowl game. They can put points on the board, they can move the ball.”

The strength of Minnesota’s offense is its running game, which is averaging 5.4 yards per carry. Sophomore Marion Barber III tied a school record with four rushing touchdowns against Ohio, and has 10 this season.

“Our tailbacks are something special, ” quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq said. “Marion Barber reminds me of Herschel Walker. He’s deceptively fast. You think you have him, and he’ll run by you or he’ll run you over.

“With Thomas Tapeh, his thing is to run you over. Terry Jackson is a shifty guy. He’ll dance you to death and make you fall. And Laurence Maroney, our freshman, he’s a madman. He’s just running by people.”

Barber usually is the third back to touch the ball, but the coaches say privately that he is the best all-around runner on the team. When the Gophers get inside the 20, Barber is their go-to guy.

Moroney racked up 132 yards, including a 47-yard touchdown run, last week against Louisiana-Lafayette. He also has scored this year on an 88-yard kickoff return.

Penn State’s defense has struggled to stop the run so far this year. It is allowing 204 ypg, which ranks 102nd in the country.

It is hard to gauge Minnesota’s power, though, since it is yet to be tested by a quality opponent. Even Gophers coach Glen Mason pooh-poohed the oddsmakers, who list his team as a two-point favorite today.

“Based on what• What everybody is writing and saying about what we’ve done so far?” Mason said. “I don’t care what anybody says. We’re the underdog. That’s reality. I don’t know many people who go into Happy Valley as a favorite.”

Then again, that hasn’t mattered much since Nov. 6, 1999.

No. 24 Minnesota (4-0) vs. Penn State (2-2)


When: Noon

Where: Beaver Stadium, University Park

TV: ESPN

Radio: WEAE-AM (1250), WCNS-AM (1480), WNTJ-AM (1490)

Line: Minnesota by 2

Biertempfel’s pick: Minnesota wins, 24-17


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