Limegrover knows the ‘other shoe’
Few in Penn State’s camp are more qualified to speak about the kind of atmosphere and challenge the Nittany Lions should anticipate today than Matt Limegrover.
The Lions’ offensive line coach spent five seasons (2011-15) on Minnesota’s staff before landing at Penn State.
He said in the past when the Gophers have had moderate success, the accompanying mindset has generally been “When’s the other shoe going to drop?”
It could well drop today as the Gophers host Penn State in a matchup of 8-0 teams that are starting to envision special Novembers.
“As with any fan base, and probably speaking more to the former players, the guys I coached and were there, they’re just so desperate for something really good to happen,” Limegrover was telling reporters on Thursday. “I think 1969 (actually 1967) is the last time they won the Big Ten and (in past years) the talk of the idea of going to the Rose Bowl or a New Year’s Day bowl, it was always, ‘That isn’t for us anymore — (or) our time has come and gone,’ and people have the feeling of ‘when’s the other shoe’s going to drop?'”
He was referring to 2014 when, coached by Limegrover colleague Jerry Kill, the Gophers started strong at 6-1 (beat Michigan) and were still in the Big Ten West race at 8-3 when Wisconsin came calling.
“We might have a chance if we beat them and some other things happened to win the Big Ten West, but we also knew we were kind of outclassed,” he said. “That’s kind of been Minnesota’s recent past.”
The Gophers lost two of their last three regular season games (Ohio State, Wisconsin) and wound up in the Citrus Bowl and lost to Missouri, finishing 8-5.
Just twice since 2000 have the Gophers lost fewer than five games — 2014 when they went 9-4 and 10-3 in 2003, Glen Mason’s best year.
Limegrover thinks the Gophers’ culture is changing under P.J. Fleck. The two coached together at Northern Illinois, under Kill.
He’s 20-13 in his third year with Minnesota after a successful tenure at Western Michigan.
“P.J. has done a phenomenal job of saying this is something that is built to last, (that) this is not catching lightning in a bottle,” Limegrover said. “This isn’t like some other Big Ten teams that win every four-five years and fall back into oblivion. I think they really believe they can beat anybody in the country, and that’s powerful. I think they have that right now, and James (Franklin) has built that here.”
Limegrover sees similarities in the two energetic head coaches in that both always envisioned themselves as leaders.
“(As assistants) not only did they say they’re going to be a head coach, but they had a plan,” he said.
While some deservedly wonder whether Penn State, despite its No. 4 ranking in the College Football Playoff, is actually better than Clemson and/or Georgia (Nos. 5-6), Minnesota has risen to No. 13 in the Associated Press poll with its best win a debate between Nebraska, Illinois and South Dakota.
The Gophers still have Penn State, Iowa and Wisconsin remaining and don’t play Ohio State or Michigan. It’s hard to believe a team can get to No. 13 without playing any of those five teams, but the Gophers have.
“(Minnesota) People are genuinely excited to be playing an important game,” Limegrover said. “It’s November, battling for something. The stadium is going to be rocking.”
Which, Limegrover said, is just fine with the Lions.
“The great thing for us is it’s not going to be anything new than what we play in front of each and every week,” he said. “Our guys are so focused on our process that this could be the biggest game in 50 years for our opponent or the biggest since last week.”
For his part, Limegrover admits his — and Franklin’s — first visit as an opponent to TCF Bank Stadium holds special significance since he has Gopher roots.
“It means a little more,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of friends back there. But we’re continuing the mindset of 1-0 and if we take care of that, I’ll shake a lot of hands with a smile on my face.”
Neil Rudel covers Penn State football from the Altoona Mirror.