No. 13 Penn State Holds Off Gophers


Three botched snaps. Two missed field goals. One dropped touchdown.

And another bruising defensive performance.

For No. 13 Penn State, that was the formula for another tough win over Minnesota Saturday.

Related Links

Game summary

More college football coverage:

  • Top 25 roundup
  • Early look at BCS formula
  • Power Poll

    Forum: How good is Penn State?

  • Struggling much the way they did in a one-point win over the Golden Gophers last year, the Nittany Lions broke open a close game with Corey Jones' 65-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter of a sloppy 27-17 victory.

    The mistakes on offense have become a theme for Penn State this season, but so has the performance of its defense.

    "Sometimes it's a little frustrating," said linebacker Brandon Short, who had three of Penn State's seven sacks. "We realize that the offense is young and just trying to get established. (But) I would never, ever point a finger at anyone on this team, because I remember how it felt to be embarrassed at the end of last year."

    The defense let the Nittany Lions down a year ago after they lost the No. 1 ranking with a 16-15 midseason win over Minnesota. But this year it's the inexperienced offense that is sputtering.

    Penn State (4-1, 1-1 Big Ten) had three fumbles, including two on botched snaps by Kevin Thompson (he recovered a third), two missed field goals by Travis Forney and a dropped TD pass by Bruce Branch.

    "It's kind of like a weekly thing now," fullback Mike Cerimele said of the mistakes. "We've got to get rid of them. It's pretty frustrating, making all those mental errors."

    Penn State also lost leading receiver Joe Nastasi with a broken hand in the first half.

    But the Nittany Lions had plenty of things go right, too.

    Forney made a career-best four field goals, Eric Sturdifen blocked a punt to set up a TD, and Anthony King and Derek Fox each had second-half interceptions after Jones' first career TD catch helped make it 24-10.

    Cornerback David Macklin adde the clinching play, tipping an option pitch and grabbing the bouncing ball with 3:21 left. Penn State ran out the clock.

    "There is such a thing as a moral victory, but I don't know if this was a moral victory," said Minnesota quarterback Andy Persby, who was 13-for-34 for 113 yards with one TD and two interceptions in his first start. "We could have played a lot better than we did, and we know it."

    With its defense dominating, Penn State led 16-0 after Aaron Harris scored on a 3-yard run with 8:59 left in the second quarter. That came two plays after Sturdifen's blocked punt, which Macklin returned to the 10.

    The Gophers had only two first downs to that point, but Persby led them to a field goal late in the first half and then threw a 3-yard TD pass to Luke Leverson to cut Penn State's lead to 16-10 midway through the third quarter.

    Minnesota had all the momentum when Willie Middlebrooks dropped Harris for an 11-yard loss on the first play after the ensuing kickoff. But misplays by the Gophers' two best defensive players proved costly.

    On second-and-21 from the Penn State 9, linebacker Parc Williams was called for pass interference on a short pass, giving the Nittany Lions an automatic first down.

    "That was a big key turning point in the game," Williams said. "Things like that happen. It's a split-second thing. You try and do your best, but I made a mistake."

    Later in the drive, a holding penalty left the Nittany Lions facing second-and-24. That's when Jones got behind safety Tyrone Carter, Minnesota's leading tackler, to haul in a perfect pass from Thompson for his first career TD.

    Thompson threw to Cordell Mitchell for the 2-point conversion and a 24-10 lead.

    "It was exciting," said Jones, a senior whose end zone celebration hinted of a trying career. "It was a lot of frustration released on that play, a lot of frustration. I don't even think I did it justice."

    Thompson, who played most of the game, was 16-for-32 for 246 yards.

    Billy Cockerham replaced Persby with about seven minutes left and threw a 4-yard TD pass to Leverson to pull the Gophers to 27-17. The Gophers recovered an onside kick and Cockerham ran 20 yards to the Penn State 37 on the first play.

    Then Macklin made the last big play of the day for Penn State's defense.

    "We did step it up," said linebacker LaVar Arrington. "We created a few more turnovers than we usually do. We did a pretty good job."

    © 1998 SportsLine USA, Inc. All rights reserved