STATE COLLEGE, PA. – After all the dramatic twists and turns to Saturday’s overtime loss at Penn State, Gophers coach Tracy Claeys wasn’t about to let blame fall to one individual player.
Mitch Leidner threw a fourth quarter interception. Junior safety Adekunle Ayinde missed two crucial tackles. The defense had a chance to put the game away with 54 seconds remaining in regulation and couldn’t do it.
Gophers kicker Emmit Carpenter hit a 46-yard field goal, capping the first overtime possession. On the next play, Saquon Barkley finally broke loose long enough to tear the Gophers’ hearts out.
Held to 38 yards rushing in regulation, Barkley burst through a hole up the middle, and put a move on Ayinde, racing 25 yards for a touchdown.
The Nittany Lions piled into the end zone behind Barkley, celebrating their 29-26 triumph before an announced crowd of 95,332 at Beaver Stadium.
“No, no, no — it wasn’t Kunle’s fault,” Claeys aid. “It was a big run by [Barkley], made a good play.”
Claeys answered more questions with short answers and then leaned closer to the microphone in the visiting media room.
“The bottom line is you can pick all these plays out through the game,” he said. “But the third quarter, we just weren’t very good, and that’s where we lost the football game.”
Minnesota (3-1, 0-1 Big Ten) squandered a 10-point halftime lead, as Penn State scored 17 consecutive points in the third quarter.
The turning point came with Penn State down 13-3 at its own 20-yard line. Facing a third-and-10, McSorley stepped up in the pocket and found receiver Irvin Charles open over the middle.
A relatively harmless play turned into disaster for Minnesota, as Charles slipped a waist tackle from Ayinde and raced to the end zone for an 80-yard touchdown. Up to that point, Penn State looked stuck in the mud, with the crowd getting disinterested.
“That’s college athletics,” Claeys said. “Watch any game. That’s what happens. Good athletes make plays. You miss him, you’ve got to keep the ball in front of you, and keep them from making plays. But it happens every ballgame every week.”
Penn State (3-2, 1-1) kicked the tying field goal, and took the lead on its next possession, when Trace McSorley scrambled and found tight end Mike Gesicki wide open for a 53-yard gain. McSorley scampered for a six-yard touchdown run, and Penn State led 20-13.
Gophers freshman Jaylen Waters got ejected for unsportsmanlike conduct on the ensuing kickoff, when he leveled Penn State kicker Joey Julius. But the Gophers actually rallied from that low point to tie the score, as Shannon Brooks delivered a 37-yard touchdown run.
The Gophers forced a three-and-out and were poised to take the lead early in the fourth quarter. With the ball at Penn State’s 12-yard line, Leidner saw receiver Brian Smith open in the end zone but underthrew him, and Jordan Smith intercepted it.
Leidner has thrown just two interceptions this season, but he knew this was a big one.
“Just kind of babied it a little bit,” Leidner said. “I thought he was a little bit too open. Definitely a play I wish we could have back, but that’s the way it works sometimes.”
Leidner and the Gophers redeemed themselves on their next drive, as they drove from their 23-yard line, setting up a 37-yard field goal from Carpenter that put them back in the lead with 54 seconds remaining.
Penn State had no timeout. If the defense holds there, the Gophers win. But Penn State came up with two more huge third-down plays. On third-and-10 from the Penn State 20, Chris Godwin made a diving catch for a 20-yard gain.
Then, on third-and-3 from the 48-yard line, McSorley improvised again, running diagonally across the field for a 26-yard gain.
Tyler Davis, who has made 17 consecutive field goals to start his career, hit from 40 yards with two seconds remaining, sending the game to overtime.
Carpenter has his own streak going. He’s made nine in a row to start the season, including the 46-yarder that salvaged something in overtime after the Gophers couldn’t move the ball. But the lead wasn’t big enough, once Barkley did his thing.
“It hurts. It hurts a lot,” Gophers running back Rodney Smith said. “But we can’t dwell on that. We have to get back in the lab tomorrow, and prepare next week for Iowa.”