STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - On the rare October day when Mount Nittany looked like one of those snow-capped peaks in the Rockies, the Penn State defense made it tough sledding for Minnesota's potent offense.
Led by linebacker Sean Lee in his return and the inspired play of cornerback A.J. Wallace, the 14th-ranked Nittany Lions allowed yardage with extreme reluctance yesterday and pitched a 20-0 shutout over the Golden Gophers at chilly, misty Beaver Stadium.
Snow dotted the stands, the game-time temperature was 37 degrees, and intermittent light rain fell during the game. But the Lions looked as comfortable as if they were in their living rooms, recording the 40th shutout of the Joe Paterno era and their first since 2007.
Penn State (6-1, 2-1 Big Ten Conference) limited the Gophers (4-3, 2-2) to seven first downs, 138 yards of total offense, and a tick over 18 minutes of possession time, all season lows for its defense.
When Minnesota mounted its only threat of the game, driving to the Penn State 1 early in the fourth quarter, Wallace and linebacker Navorro Bowman combined to stop Kevin Whaley on a sweep to the left on fourth down.
"When they ran that toss, I saw it kind of late, so I tried to sprint to the pylon," Wallace said. "I just told myself, 'He's not going to get there before I will.' Navorro wrapped him up, and I hit him high so he wouldn't stretch over."
That play by Wallace, a 6-foot-1, 195-pound senior who began the preseason in Joe Paterno's doghouse for cutting summer-school classes, was only a part of his contribution yesterday.
Wallace was assigned to cover Eric Decker, Minnesota's 6-3 wide receiver who entered the game as the Big Ten leader in catches and receiving yards. Five passes were thrown to Decker, but he caught just one, for 42 yards.
"We felt A.J. was one of the guys that could hang with Decker on jump balls," defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said. "I thought A.J. had an outstanding game. I thought he played hard, made some good tackles."
Paterno said he challenged Wallace to limit Decker.
"I took great pride in being challenged," Wallace said. "They told me I had to put stuff on my plate and I was ready to eat. . . . I just tried to match his intensity and try to be more physical than he was."
Lee was back on the field, mostly in nickel-defense situations, after missing the Lions' last three games because of a sprained left knee. Bradley estimated Lee was on the field for 18 to 20 plays.
"It was kind of like coming back, Part 2," said Lee, who sat out the 2008 season after undergoing right knee surgery. "It was nice just being back. We had that energy, we were playing hard, and we got a shutout against a really good team."
The offense rolled up 464 total yards. Evan Royster rushed for 137 yards on 23 carries. After a slow start, Daryll Clark settled down, completing 21 of 32 passes for 287 yards and a 12-yard touchdown to Derek Moye. Clark also sneaked 1 yard for a TD, and Collin Wagner kicked two field goals.
Moye, a 6-5 sophomore, made a phenomenal catch for the Lions' first touchdown, 35 seconds before halftime. After officials ruled the pass incomplete, the play was reviewed and overturned when replays showed Moye got the toes of his right foot down in bounds.
"I knew I had control of the ball, but I had no clue where my foot was," said Moye, who caught six passes for 120 yards. "I thought I was in, but I wasn't 100 percent positive. That's why I gave [an official] a little glare."
Four of the Nittany Lions' nine possessions ended in scores, and each of the other five advanced into Minnesota territory. But the Lions were knocked off track by penalties - eight of their season-high nine penalties were called against the offense.
The Lions can ill afford that slipshod play next week when they go to Michigan.