Not only did Penn State’s much-maligned defense not have four defensive starters back from injury, when they got back an athletic defensive tackle after four games, they immediately lost him again.
Curtis Cothran was ejected for a targeting call in the second half of Penn State’s 29-26 overtime win against Minnesota.
The team also did not have starting linebackers Brandon Bell, Nyeem Wartman-White, or Jason Cabinda and were without backup Jan Johnson in the middle. Brandon Smith, a former walk-on who was ejected last week for targeting (the Big Ten later issued a statement that the call should have been reversed), also had to leave Saturday’s game.
True freshman Cam Brown got his start in the effort and finished the game with nine tackles. He has 19 in two games. Safety Marcus Allen slid into a hybrid safety/linebacker role at times, and finished the game with 22 tackles.
Despite giving up 469 yards (228 on the ground), the unit also performed well in big third down situations, holding Minnesota to two conversions in the first half and six throughout. Corner Jordan Smith had his first-ever interception in his first major minutes played after filling in for an injured Christian Campbell.
Finally, the defense recorded two sacks and nine tackles for loss, including one that held the Gophers to a field goal in overtime.
“Really proud of our defense,” said head coach James Franklin, after the game. "Our defense is under unusual circumstances, I don't think I've ever seen it before.”
“We kept things really vanilla and actually played really well. I'm proud of our defense and I'm proud of Brent Pry, because he's been in a really, really challenging situation and those guys just battled.”
Win big for offensive line coach Limegrover
As the Alma Mater came to a close after the win, a mad dash of Nittany Lions ran every which way.
Some ran to Nittanyville sign-holders, others headed for the tunnel.
When the crowd started to clear a bit, in the middle of it all was Penn State offensive line coach Matt Limegrover holding the Governor's Victory Bell, the trophy awarded to the winner of the matchup.
Limegrover, in his first year with the Nittany Lions, came over from Minnesota, having spent the last five seasons as offensive coordinator and offensive line coach with the Golden Gophers. Before Saturday's game, Limegrover told the team a story about his life, Allen said.
Allen didn't want to give specifics of what was discussed, but Limegrover's words motivated him and his teammates.
"We made sure that we were going to get this win for Limegrover," Allen said. "We were passionate enough to get it for him, and it felt good after the game...(His story) just motivated us."
Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley echoed Allen's statements.
"We were playing for coach Limegrover and what he's meant to our program since he's come here," McSorley said. "We felt like he might have been wronged a little bit at Minnesota, so we wanted to come and defend him and win this game for him."
Questions on calls
Penn State went for it twice on early fourth downs and converted on one. Later in the half, the team was within the one-yard line on fourth down and Franklin elected to kick a field goal.
He was questioned about the call post game.
“First of all, I get it,” said Franklin. “We go for it early in the game and it’s a fourth-and-one, and it doesn’t work so it’s a bad decision. Later in the game, we have the ball on the goal line on fourth-and-one and we don’t go for it, and it’s a bad decision.
“We have not been great at consistently running the ball in short down situations. I want to be aggressive early in the game, and we’re right on the fringe of (kicker Tyler Davis’) range, and we’re right about his fringe of where he’s been consistent…We take the points on the one-yard line and people feel like we should’ve gone for it, I get that.”