Gophers lose at Penn State 45-17: The good, the bad & the ugly

The University of Minnesota football season appears to be at a crossroads with five games to play.

The Gophers dropped to 4-3 on the season, and 1-3 in Big Ten play after Saturday’s 45-17 loss at Penn State. The Nittany Lions pulled away after a 21-0 third quarter, and never looked back. Minnesota has now lost three straight, and any hopes of contending in the Big Ten West are fading fast.

Here is the good, the bad and the ugly from Saturday’s loss.


There’s not a lot of good when you lose by 28 points, but Mo Ibrahim and Athan Kaliakmanis certainly were the bright spots Saturday. Ibrahim had 30 carries for 113 yards and a touchdown that cut Minnesota’s deficit to 17-10 at the half. It was his 15th straight 100-yard game, tying a record set by Ezekiel Elliott. It was also his 45th career touchdown.

With Tanner Morgan unable to play due to a concussion, redshirt Athan Kaliakmanis made his first career start on the road in front of 110,000 fans. He was up to the task, finishing 9-of-22 for 175 yards, one touchdown and an interception on a pass intended for Michael Brown-Stephens where there could’ve been pass interference. He also ran seven times for 45 yards. The Gophers got a look at their future at quarterback once Morgan’s time is done.

"I have an incredible amount of confidence in that young man. I think the sky is the limit for that young man. You get in a position that we were in, if there’s one person you can put in that environment and is not going to be rattled in that environment, it was him," Gophers coach PJ Fleck said Monday.


For the third straight week, Minnesota’s offensive line was physically beaten up front by its opponent. To compound matters, the Gophers were also not disciplined. They had five false start penalties in their first 20 offensive plays. Seven of their eight penalties on the night were before the snap. They have to be more physical, and they have to play better.

Minnesota’s defense might be the most glaring issue right now. For the second straight week, the Gophers gave up nearly 500 total yards. Saturday, Sean Clifford threw for 295 yards and four touchdowns. Highly-touted running backs Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen combined for 28 carries, 158 yards and two scores. The Gophers gave up a second half touchdown after a miscommunication in the secondary left a receiver uncovered pre-snap.

The Nittany Lions’ touchdowns ranged from 16 to 38 yards, and their explosive plays were the difference.

"Defensively we played really well. I know everybody is like what are you talking about? We gave up five explosive plays, but other than that we played really well," Fleck said. "We just let up some explosive plays, and we’re not built that way. You’re playing a team like that and their explosive plays are more explosive than yours, you’re going to lose the game."


The Gophers’ program was on a high after dominating Michigan State in the Big Ten opener, 34-7. Since? The run-game was a no-show against Purdue in a 20-10 loss, the passing game was non-existent in a 26-14 loss at Illinois. Saturday, receivers dropped passes and the Gophers went 2-of-13 on third down. After three straight Big Ten losses, the Gophers likely need to win out and get help to have any shot at the Big Ten West.

"Nobody likes where we are, and nobody likes how we’ve been able to not play as consistently as we know we’re possibly capable of doing. We just haven’t executed at a really high level," Fleck said.


Penn State’s third offensive possession ended with Clifford taking a deep shot, and getting picked off by Justin Walley, who returned it to the Nittany Lions’ 14-yard line. The Gophers went backwards in three plays, hurt by a false start, and settled for a Matthew Trickett field goal. Get a touchdown there, and it might completely change the outlook for the night. Whether it was play-calling or execution, it was a costly early sequence for the Gophers.