Penn State fumbled on its first snap, and the Gophers turned two key fourth-down conversions into touchdowns, helping Minnesota take a 24-10 lead into halftime today at TCF Bank Stadium.
Penn State’s fumble came on a bad exchange from quarterback Christian Hackenberg to running back Bill Belton.
Cornerback Eric Murray pounded on the ball at Penn State’s 29-yard line, and the Gophers quickly turned that into a 45-yard field goal by Chris Hawthorne.
The Gophers made it 10-0 late in the first quarter with a 15-play, 96-yard touchdown drive that took 8:10 off the clock. The key play was a 24-yard pass from Philip Nelson to Maxx Williams on fourth-and-2 from Penn State’s 28-yard line.
Penn State seemed to be on its heels, but the Nittany Lions came right back with a quick, 75-yard touchdown drive. Zach Zwinak took over for Belton at running back and the Gophers didn’t have an answer. He had a 38-yard gain and scored on a six-yard run.
The Gophers came right back with another touchdown drive, stretching the lead to 17-7. Once again, Minnesota converted a key fourth down, when Nelson hit Donovahn Jones for an 11-yard gain on fourth-and 9 from Penn State’s 30-yard line.
Entering the game, Penn State opponents were 0-for-6 converting fourth-down chances, and the Gophers were 8-for-11. Minnesota's success continued. Nelson capped that drive with a six-yard touchdown scramble.
Penn State had another long drive toward the end of the half, but the Gophers forced the Nittany Lions to settle for a 27-yard field goal by Sam Ficken.
Nelson hit a wide open Williams in the corner for a 24-yard touchdown pass with 17 seconds remaining in the first half.