Penn State heads into Piscataway unblemished to take on a 2-0 Big Ten Powerhouse Rutgers team who is treating this game like their Super Bowl. How does the staff think Penn State will welcome Way-Eastern-Pennsylvania into the conference? Let's find out.
Matt: Maybe I'm looking at this too myopically, but what exactly is supposed to scare me about BTPR? They escaped a bad Wazzu team, and slept through a game against 0-2 Howard (who was rolled 41-0 by Akron). To be fair, their defensive line is good, and the offense appears to have some direction under Friedgen, but PSU is light years better than their first two opponents. They'll come out fired up, and maybe take a lead, but PSU's defense, especially the line and secondary, and the sieve of a BTPR secondary vs. Hack, is going to be the difference. PSU pulls away in the 4th quarter.
Middle Nick: It's not that I think Rutgers is a bad team. They're not. They have some talent, and the offense looks a lot better than I expected, most likely thanks to Maryland mercenary Friedgen. That being said, Rutgers fans who are acting like they're going to take the Big Ten after a late win over Washington State and win over Howard need to relax. I know Washington State better than most, having watched them every chance I get over the past few seasons. There is nobody in the country that cares about defense less than Mike Leach. Once the Cougs get some more athletes on the offensive side of the ball, they'll start to Oregon some teams, but until then their defense isn't good enough to win a ton of games. It's still a win for Rutgers, but against a team that plays 0 defense, it's somewhat less impressive. Then there's Howard. I understand that the score looked closer than the game, but the Rutgers defense that played, gave up more points than the Akron backups. Just because they're your second string defense, doesn't mean they won't play. That's called depth. How can you be inspired in what your team has waiting behind the front line if you see them give up points to Howard?
The bottom line is that Rutgers is not as good as their record would indicate. They deserved both of their wins, yes. But they are not a team that has the look of a potential bracket buster. They haven't faced a defense like Penn State's. They haven't faced a quarterback like Christian Hackenberg. They haven't faced an offensive attack that's as varied through the air as Penn State's. Their defensive line might cause some problems, but whose hasn't so far? Penn State has proved they can survive through their weaknesses so far, and Rutgers will not be the team that breaks through. To my friends who went to Rutgers, I'm sorry. But this won't be pretty.
bscaff: I'm excited. This should be an absolute blast. It's a night game with BTPR, a team with (at least a few) crazy fans who hate Penn State. That's refreshing. I haven't felt quite like this since the early 1990s. Mid-westerners are too freaking polite to hate properly. They're either self-effacing (Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Nebraska), self-loathing (Purdue, Indiana, Illinois, Sparty), comically disinterested (Northwestern), or captivated by wistful memories of a "Big2-Little8" circa 1973 (Ohio State, Michigan), when Detroit and Cleveland weren't the go-to cities for all drug/crime/poverty/corruption/despair jokes.
But State University of New Jersey-Piscataway? Good ol' SUNJ-P? These freaking guys know how to hate properly. They're born to hate. Ever since they learned their Baby Einstein shapes and colors, they've grown accustomed to the rest of the United States mocking them for myriad things, running the gamut of swampland, pineys, Julie Hermann, gas pumping, fist pumping, toll roads, Snookie, big hair, Donald Trump's Atlantic City, spray tans, Julie Hermann, strange accents, being ranked well below Fordham on the list of "NYC's college teams", high taxes, Chris Christie, Julie Hermann, using a highway Exit as a cultural dividing line, Trenton, Bon Jovi, Steve Forbes, Queen Latifah, the "berserker" guy from Clerks, Julie Hermann, Tara Reid, Grover Cleveland, the "James Fenimore Cooper Service Plaza", Julie Hermann, Camden, Doug Graber, and, of course, the fact that 99.99% of their best high school football players choose to play college football somewhere - anywhere - other than at State University of New Jersey-Piscataway. More often than not, that somewhere else has been Penn State, which fuels their hatred. Or it's USC, or Bama, or, like I just wrote - anywhere other than SUNJ-P. Thus, current students and alums of SUNJ-P, who effectively doubled-down on their shame by enrolling, silently screaming "**** your taunts, I'll attend SUNJ-P then spray-tan my face orange as part of my ritualistic self-flagellation", these special few spit venom in a fashion that's simply incomprehensible to your average whole milk guzzling, apple pie eating mid-westerner.
And I absolutely dig that about them. Welcome aboard, you gloriously trashy bastards, driving your 4mpg GMC Yukons to yet another laser hair removal appointment. You're that former classmate from 2nd grade who once crapped his pants playing kickball during recess; and yet, absurdly, confoundedly, despite all reason, now that you found us by sheer stupid luck twenty years after the foul smelling brown spot seeped through the seat of your Jordache jeans as you contentedly ate non-toxic white paste, I couldn't be more pleased you've joined the conference. I mean that sincerely. Saturday night should be a blast. //(pumps fist with delight)
Devon: The more I think on this game, the more sure I am that Penn State will win. Rutgers beat two teams, in Washington State and Howard, that aren't very good--and both were defeated by larger margins by purportedly lesser teams, in Nevada and Akron. And yet, Rutgers was gashed through the air against Wazzu and on the ground against Howard, and sure, the former is an air raid offense and the latter did much of their damage when the game was functionally over, but that doesn't bode well for Rutgers' first real test of a potentially balanced offense. I tend to think last week's struggles were a blessing in disguise, because it let John Donovan play around a little bit more to see what might work. The run game will need to continue its improvement, but the offensive line and playcalling seemed much better last week than in the opener. If we can establish a run--look out, it might be a blowout. The only thing that can beat Penn State is Penn State, and that's by stalling drives, committing bad penalties, and turning the ball over. If Hackenberg can avoid throwing two picks, and the offense is able to get the ball into the end zone more often than they settle for field goals, Rutgers simply won't have the firepower to keep up against the first competent defense they've seen all season. It will take a little bit for the Knights to get into a groove once they realize that Paul James can't just run all over us. A strong start for the Nittany Lions could put this away early.
Chad: More like Low Point Problems Stadium.
Tim A: (from the email thread) I am in class right now and then going out to dinner/watch the Stillers game with my training colleagues. --- This man cares more about the Steelers than you fine readers. Boo him.
New Nick: Penn State plays very energized and fresh after getting their bowl eligibility back. Rutgers stays in the game but Gary Nova eventually makes enough mistakes to cost them the game. Should be close.
Dan: There's certainly some talent on this BTPR squad, but not enough to strike fear into me. Gary Nova has played fine so far this year, against the "defenses" of Washington State and Howard, but it's only a matter of time until he goes full SuperNova and squanders a game away for the team. And Paul James looks to be a competent back, but he hasn't faced a front seven like Penn State's yet. I don't see him recreating that 173-yard performance against Wazzu against the likes of Anthony Zettel, Austin Johnson, Deion Barnes and Mike Hull.
If Penn State can finally develop any sort of running game early on, Christian Hackenberg's already field day against the BTPR secondary should become that much easier and the Nittany Lions should run away with things. Bill Belton is facing his home state's team and should be up for this one. I think BTPR keeps it close for two-and-a-half quarters until the talent gap on the defensive side of the ball takes over.
FROM THE PREVIEW:
Jared: TTFP 27-20
FROM THE PODCAST:
Cari: TTFP 35-24
Adam: TTFP 31-24
Bill: TTFP 34-28