By Tim Owen
For The Daily Item
STATE COLLEGE -- Penn State coach Bill O'Brien wants everybody to be clear on one thing. Minnesota, his team's upcoming road opponent, is extremely underrated. He has watched on film each of its nine games, seven of which the Gophers won, and claims that they are one of the top teams the Nittany Lions have faced all season.
Although Penn State holds an 8-4 all-time series advantage over the Gophers, who consistently finish in the bottom half of the Big Ten, O'Brien is urging his players not to take Minnesota lightly.
"When I watch them, there aren't any easy plays on either side of the ball," O'Brien said at his weekly press conference Tuesday. "I think they just do a really good job of making sure that their scheme is coached up well.
"They play very, very hard. On defense they run to the ball. On offense they run the ball downhill. They challenge you defensively. So we're going to have to be up for the challenge -- that's for sure."
Minnesota has challenged a lot of teams so far this season. Most recently it beat Indiana, a team that defeated Penn State in early October. But Penn State has a win over a common opponent that beat Minnesota, and that team is Michigan, which beat the Gophers on the same day that the Nittany Lions lost at Indiana.
But Minnesota has been on a four-game winning streak since that loss in Ann Arbor, and its offense is showing zero signs of slowing down. Starting quarterback Philip Nelson boasted a career day vs. the Hoosiers as he threw for 298 yards and four touchdowns.
Although Penn State has won the last four meetings against Minnesota, there's an intriguing trend that goes against the Nittany Lions in this one. In this series, which dates back to 1993, victories have come in batches of four.
PSU won the first four meetings, before Minnesota went on to win the next four games between 1999-2004. O'Brien is focused on getting Penn State a victory, and with that, the evasive fifth win.
"This is a very, very good team," O'Brien said of the Gophers. "It's one of the better teams we've played this year."
O'Brien said junior safety Ryan Keiser, a graduate of Selinsgrove High School, is continuing to heal and progress from a hand injury that he suffered earlier in the season. As he made evident with his game-clinching interception against Illinois in overtime last week, however, he is continuing to excel despite the setback.
"(Keiser) is a very valuable member of this football team -- just the type of kid he is, the type of player he is, the maturity level he brings to the locker room," O'Brien said.
He comes from a coaching family. Athletics have been a part of his whole life. I think he does a great job. I think he's an instinctive player.
"I think he was a little rusty when he first came back from the hand injury. He'd probably be the first one to tell you that. But I think in the Illinois game he really played a lot better and he made a nice play on a bubble screen. Then he got the tipped interception (in overtime.) He's a fantastic guy, a great guy to coach, and he's a team guy. (He's a) really, really good guy to have on the team."