MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – Penn State had some life back, even if it came against the conference’s worst team. The Nittany Lions got their sputtering offense going, too, even after losing their starting quarterback.
Matt McGloin threw two touchdown passes to Derek Moye in relief of Rob Bolden, and Penn State beat Minnesota 33-21 on Saturday.
After a lopsided homecoming loss to Illinois, the Nittany Lions (4-3, 1-2 Big Ten) used a needed week off and the struggling Gophers (1-7, 0-4) to build some momentum.
“We had a whole week to come together, figure out what’s happening and change what was going on,” linebacker Nate Stupar said. “We got our mind back and focused.”
Bolden threw six interceptions, and for only two scores, in the previous five games, but the freshman completed his first nine passes in this game before leaving with a possible concussion. He was 11 for 13 for 130 yards and a touchdown to Brett Brackett before getting hurt midway through the second quarter when he was tackled by Mike Rallis near the sideline.
Bolden’s status for next week is uncertain, but his teammates said he looked coherent enough to return.
“He just said he was a little dizzy,” wide receiver Derek Moye said.
“He felt like he could’ve been back in the game.”
McGloin finished only 6 for 13 for 76 yards and an interception, but the sophomore’s first career completion was a beauty. Right after Adam Weber’s end-zone heave to double-covered Da’Jon McKnight was intercepted by D’Anton Lynn and returned for 58 yards, McGloin zipped a 42-yard pass to Moye for a touchdown that stretched the lead to 21-7.
“You have to make something happen for yourself,” coach Joe Paterno said, lamenting his team’s recent lack of forced turnovers. The 83-year-old coached in his 65th different stadium on Saturday.
McGloin shared time in the second half with fellow backup Kevin Newsome. Silas Redd rushed nine times for 71 yards and Evan Royster ran 10 times for 62 yards and a second-quarter touchdown on a drive kept alive by a pair of third-down pass-interference penalties.
This performance surely wasn’t enough to satisfy the restless Penn State fans pushing for Paterno to retire, but for a group that entered the game last in the Big Ten in points and total offense it looked like progress.
The Nittany Lions even scored a touchdown in the red zone, after doing so only six times in their first 20 trips inside the 20-yard line this season. McGloin was beaming after the game.
“I’m glad the coaches had faith in me,” he said.
Said Brackett: “The one thing that really stood out was the way he handled the huddle. Just took command and was calm and poised.”
Whether McGloin will be summoned next week or not is unclear.
“This is Rob’s team,” he said. “I just filled in for him today. If they need me to go again, I’ll be ready to go again.”
Penn State’s defense has been ravaged by injuries this season, but linebackers Mike Mauti, Bani Gbadyu and Gerald Hodges led a group of players that used last week’s bye to get healthy enough to return. Promising sophomore defensive end Sean Stanley, who was held out the last two games and recently was charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession, was also in the mix.
Weber became the fifth Big Ten quarterback to reach 10,000 career yards, throwing three touchdown passes to McKnight and finishing 26 for 49 for 299 yards and that costly interception.
DeLeon Eskridge rushed 26 times for 111 yards for the Gophers, who played their first game following the firing of coach Tim Brewster and the takeover by interim replacement Jeff Horton.
With President Barack Obama scheduled to lead a rally on campus later in the afternoon, TCF Bank Stadium barely looked half-full. The announced attendance was 48,479, the smallest in 12 games here. The Gophers are 4-8 in their new home, including 0-5 this year. The fans that were there shifted their frustration from Brewster to the officials, booing them as they left the field at halftime.
McKnight was still stewing about the lack of a pass interference call on the interception.
“He had my jersey, and he stopped me from getting the ball. He obviously tripped me,” McKnight said, before softening his stance. “It’s bad when they get them and we don’t get them, but you can’t put the game on the ref’s shoulders. You just have to play harder.”
The Gophers fell to 4-8 all time against the Nittany Lions, losing their fourth straight after four consecutive victories. Horton said he was honored and “stoked” to take the field as the head coach, but the result was familiar.
“If you’re not playing well, it seems like all the bad things go against you,” Horton said.
McKnight leads the Gophers with nine touchdown receptions, six coming in the last nine quarters. The junior had eight receptions for 103 yards. But it wasn’t enough.
“In crucial situations, we were unable to make plays,” Weber said. “It’s been the story of our season.”