Running game makes Gophers go

Associated Press

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Minnesota's strong start appeared poised to stall midway through the first quarter, when Penn State's Donnie Johnson downed a 57-yard punt on the Minnesota 1-yard line.

Twelve plays and 99 yards later, the Golden Gophers were back in the end zone and up 14-0.

No. 21 Minnesota (5-0) beat Penn State 20-14 in the Big Ten opener for both teams Saturday, with that 99-yard drive serving notice that the Gophers had a running game to be reckoned with.

"You don't have many 99-yard drives in your coaching career, and I think to do it against Penn State on the road is really something," Minnesota coach Glen Mason said.


That drive showed both the strength and the versatility of the Minnesota running backs: Marion Barber III, who finished with 134 yards and a touchdown; freshman Laurence Maroney, who ended the drive with a 3-yard touchdown run up the middle; and quarterback Asad Abdul-Khaliq, who continually evaded Penn State defenders in the pocket.

Those three rushed for 65 of Minnesota's 99 yards on that possession, and Maroney caught one of the two complete passes.

"All we really wanted to do was give our team better field position in a hostile environment," Abdul-Khaliq said. "When we scored, we really didn't realize we went 99 yards. But of course, we were happy with it."

But it wasn't so much that Minnesota ran on Penn State (2-3); most teams have been successful against the young Nittany Lion line.

It was the way -- or, rather, the ways -- that they did it. They raced to the corners and pounded through the line. Caught behind the line of scrimmage after rolling left, Abdul-Khaliq evaded two tackles, cut back to the right, sprinted through defenders and scooted out of bounds for a 12-yard gain. A penalty tacked on for a late hit gave the Gophers the ball inside the Penn State 10. Two plays later, Maroney was in the end zone.

"We are going to do some other things and are going to stay away from being one-dimensional," Mason said. "I have some good football players, and I'm going to try to utilize them. If I could start them all, I would."

Some skeptics have dismissed Minnesota's 4-0 start, which came at the expense of Tulsa, Troy State, Ohio and Louisiana-Lafayette.

But with a bevy of effective runners, the Gophers are hard to come back against once they get a lead.


Penn State found that out the hard way in the fourth quarter. Justin Fraley's interception ended a Penn State drive, but with 8:38 left to play the Nittany Lions still had time to get the ball back and score.

But 51 of Barber's rushing yards came on that final Minnesota drive, which ran more than 6 minutes off the clock before Rhys Lloyd's 30-yard field goal made it 20-14.

"Obviously, you'd like to get that ball back a little quicker at the end," said Penn State coach Joe Paterno. "We have a bunch of guys that are still struggling with how to handle really good people. Minnesota has a big-time offensive line."

The Nittany Lions drove to the Minnesota 13 in the final seconds, but Michael Robinson's pass on fourth down went over the outstretched hands of Gerald Smith, allowing Minnesota to get the ball back and run out the clock.

Minnesota 14 3 0 3 -- 20

; Penn State 0 14 0 0 -- 14

; First Quarter

Minn--Barber 11 run (Lloyd kick), 9:26.


Minn--Maroney 3 run (Lloyd kick), 2:26.

Second Quarter

PSU--Scott 1 run (Gould kick), 10:43.

Minn--FG Lloyd 44, 6:42.

PSU--Robinson 10 run (Gould kick), 2:04.

Fourth Quarter

Minn--FG Lloyd 30, 2:21.



Minn PSU

; First downs 22 26

; Rushes-yards 52-250 43-226

; Passing 71 193

; Comp-Att-Int 7-15-0 19-35-2

; Return Yards 9 38

; Punts-Avg. 5-45 2-51

; Fumbles-Lost 0-0 0-0


; Penalties-Yards 4-38 6-31

; Time of Possession 29:18 30:42


RUSHING--Minnesota, Barber 23-134, Maroney 11-46, Abdul-Khaliq 10-34, Tapeh 5-21, Ellerson 1-19, team 2-(minus 4). Penn State, Scott 20-95, Robinson 12-42, McHugh 6-35, Mills 3-30, Humphrey 1-22, Upton 1-2.

PASSING--Minnesota, Abdul-Khaliq 6-14-0-56, Barber 1-1-0-15. Penn State, Robinson 16-27-2-178, Mills 3-7-0-15, team 0-1-0-0.

RECEIVING--Minnesota, Utecht 3-34, Barber 2-10, Batterson 1-16, Maroney 1-11. Penn State, McHugh 4-22, T.Johnson 3-32, Smith 3-28, Kranchick 2-27, Scott 2-13, Terrell 1-20, Humphrey 1-19, D.Johnson 1-16, Lukac 1-12, Upton 1-4.

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