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Minnesota Gameday Preview - Lions Meet the Golden Gophers

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Coming off a 24-17 victory over Illinois, the Nittany Lions (5-3, 2-2) travel to Minnesota (7-2, 3-2) on Saturday to meet the Golden Gophers at noon (ET) inside TCF Bank Stadium (TV-ESPN2).

9390452.jpegPenn State and Minnesota are set to collide for the Governors' Victory Bell for the first time since 2010.  The Nittany Lions own an 8-4 on-field record against the Golden Gophers.  The two teams will not meet again until Oct. 1, 2016 in Beaver Stadium.

Fueled by Big Ten Co-Offensive Player of the Week Bill Belton's first 201-yard performance, the Lions notched third-straight home win last week.  Belton became the first Penn State player to eclipse 200 yards since Larry Johnson did so in 2002.

Junior Allen Robinson, who leads the Big Ten in receiving, caught 11 passes for 165 yards against Illinois.  Freshman Christian Hackenberg became the Big Ten's first 2,000-yard passer of the season, and he leads the conference in completions (164) and passing yards (253.0 ypg).

The Gophers enter the weekend red-hot after winning three-straight conference games.  Minnesota outlasted Indiana last week in a 42-39 victory in Bloomington.  The Golden Gophers rank fourth in the Big Ten in rushing at 221.1 yards per game.

Minnesota has utilized two quarterbacks in 2013 with Philip Nelson and Mitch Leidner sharing the snaps.  Nelson averages 117.8 yards per game, while Leidner throws for 45.8 yards a game and adds 47.6 rushing yards per contest.  Leidner has rushed for seven touchdowns.

Welcome to the Gameday Preview for Penn State's road trip to Minnesota.

Pregame Reading:
What to Watch For - Penn State
9424882.jpeg1. Tempo is a big factor in head coach Bill O'Brien's offensive gameplan every week.  But like he said on Tuesday, this week there will be extra emphasis placed on how the Nittany Lions manage their tempo.  O'Brien said Minnesota's ball possession offense plays into the offense's game because the last thing an offensive coach wants to do is put a defense on the field without much rest.  With that in mind, keep an eye on the Nittany Lion rushing attack.  Belton's big performance last week was a byproduct of superb run blocking from the Nittany Lion offensive line and tight end corps.  The unit has made very good progress throughout the season, and O'Brien said he felt like last week was its best game in terms of run blocking.

2. Against a team that ranks near the top of the Big Ten in rushing offense, the Nittany Lion defense will be looking to establish the line of scrimmage when Minnesota has the ball.  O'Brien and the Nittany Lion defensive players said this week that the Gophers are an old-school power running team that wants to line up and play a physical brand of football.  Minnesota runs the ball nearly 75 percent of the time on offense, and the Nittany Lions will need a strong afternoon from DaQuan Jones and the defensive line to slow down the rushing attack.  The Gophers threw for 298 yards against Indiana last week, but the physical play at the line of scrimmage is the key for the Lion defense.

3. Allen Robinson's success in 2013 is a direct product of the work he put in during the offseason.  The Michigan native got stronger in the weight room, faster and improved his route running ability.  With four games to play, Robinson has already eclipsed his yardage total from 2012 with 1,043 yards.  The leading receiver in the Big Ten stands just 42 yards away from Bobby Engram's Penn State season record.  Ranked second in the nation in receiving yards per game (130.2), Robinson has made at least 10 receptions in a game three times this season.

What to Watch For - Minnesota
1. Minnesota has scored 21 of its 30 offensive touchdowns on the ground this season.  Under head coach Jerry Kill, the Golden Gophers are just 2-8 when they fail to score a rushing touchdown, including both of its Big Ten setbacks this season.  Junior running back David Cobb leads Minnesota in rushing with 803 yards and six touchdowns.  Quarterback Mitch Leidner is Minnesota's second leading rusher with 381 yards and seven scores.  In all, Minnesota has four players with three or more rushing touchdowns in 2013.  The Golden Gophers average 4.7 yards per rush.

2. Keep an eye on Minnesota's defensive line.  Coach O'Brien noted that Gopher defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman is among the top linemen the Nittany Lions would face all season.  The senior leads the Gophers in tackles for loss (9.0) and has 2.0 sacks.  Defensive end Theiren Coackran is second on the team in tackles for loss (8.0), and he leads the team in sacks with 5.5.  Defensive tackle Cameron Botticelli has made 5.5 TFL and has one sack. 

3. With wins over Northwestern, Nebraska and Indiana during the past three weeks, Minnesota enters the game playing with great confidence.  A sound football team on both sides of the ball, the Gophers have been consistent during the past three games.  Additionally, the Gophers have scored six touchdowns on defense or special teams this season  (2 INT returns, 1 fumble return, 1 blocked FG return, 1 kickoff return, 1 punt return).

The Final Word:
Following an overtime victory, the Nittany Lions are looking to build momentum on the road before returning home for two-straight weeks.  With four games to play, the message Coach O'Brien delivered to the team after last Saturday's game was that he feels like the squad has a great opportunity for improvement before the season draws to a close.  Meanwhile, Minnesota is looking to build on its surge during the past month with its fourth-straight conference victory.  Ball possession for both teams will play a big role in deciding the outcome on Saturday.  With an 11 a.m. kickoff locally, it is shaping up to be a chilly start to gameday as the Nittany Lions play their second-to-last road game of the 2013 season.

Follow's Tony Mancuso on Twitter @GoPSUTony

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