Penn State looks to string together consecutive victories in the first Big Ten match-up of the season.
Penn State (1-1) vs. Rutgers (1-1)
Kickoff: 8 p.m., Beaver Stadium, State College, PA
The Betting Line: Penn State -10
TV: BTN Kyle Kugler (play-by-play), Matt Millen (analyst), Lisa Byington (sideline)
Weather: Warm, with highs in the low-80s during the day, cooling to the low 70s by kickoff and no chance of rain.
PENN STATE RECORD: 8-7 (2nd Season)
OVERALL RECORD: 32-22 (5th Season)
VS. RUTGERS: 1-0
RUTGERS RECORD: 0-0 (First Game, Interim Head Coach)
OVERALL RECORD: 17-43 (Six Seasons)
VS. PENN STATE: 0-1
...NOW THE FUN PART
RUTGERS OFFENSE VS PENN STATE DEFENSE:
As has been widely reported, Rutgers will be without All-B1G wide receiver Leonte Carroo after he was arrested on domestic violence charges last week. The loss of a go-to receiver like Carroo could severely limit the Scarlet Knights passing game as he has the playmaking ability that adds a wrinkle to the offense that is extremely difficult to replicate. Sophomore wideout Janarion Grant, who is making a name for himself as an explosive return man, should see his role on the offense expand greatly in Carroo's absence. Grant is a big-play threat, especially if the Rutgers' coaching staff can find ways to get him the ball in space. Sophomore tight end Matt Flanagan is developing into a weapon in the passing game. He is a big target who is especially effective on third downs and in the red zone.
The Scarlet Knights have been using a running-back-by-committee approach, as former starter Paul James is again working his way through injuries. James is listed as probable for Saturday, but will be aided by sophomores Josh Hicks and Robert Martin. Hicks should receive the most carries against Penn State. He has had rushing efforts of 118 and 91 yards in the first two games of the season, although he does not appear to be a weapon out of the backfield. Martin has done very well in spot duty, averaging 6.8 yards on 19 carries for the season.
Sophomore quarterback Chris Laviano is off to a hot start, connecting on 27 off 33 passes for 342 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. He's demonstrated tremendous accuracy on short to mid-range passes thus far, and could challenge Penn State's youthful linebacker corps (especially if Brandon Bell is not set to return). However, Gary Nova also had an impressive stat line heading into the Penn State game last season, and we all know how that turned out. Once again, Bob Shoop will be dialing up different looks to try to confuse the inexperienced Laviano in a raucous environment. Hayden Rettig, a four-star prospect and LSU transfer, could also make an appearance at quarterback. Rettig was perceived as the likely starter heading into the season, and played very well in the first half of the week one contest against Norfolk State when Laviano was suspended for an off-the-field incident involving a fake ID.
In addition to Bell, cornerback Grant Haley is also hoping to return from injury to start opposite Trevor Williams (who had two INTs against Rutgers in 2014). Former walk-on Carl Nassib will try to pick up where he left off following an eye-popping three sack, two forced fumble and one INT game against Buffalo. Combined with tackles Anthony Zettel and Austin Johnson, Nassib will work to make sure Laviano is in for a very long night.
RUTGERS DEFENSE VS PENN STATE OFFENSE:
Just like the offense, a major storyline coming into this game for Rutgers focuses on who won't be playing as star defensive tackle and senior captain Darius Hamilton will be forced to sit out with an unspecified injury. Hamilton has been unable to play thus far in 2015, and his absence has greatly hindered the Scarlet Knights ability to generate a consistent pass rush. As you may likely remember, Hamilton regularly harassed Hackenberg last season and likely would have found similar success against a still struggling Penn State offensive line. Linebacker Steve Longa currently leads Rutgers in tackles and has the quickness to make plays across the field, although he has not had much success getting into the backfield yet this season.
According to Franklin's comments this week combined with the depth chart, Andrew Nelson could be back at left tackle after what many feared was a devastating injury in week two. Should he make an appearance on the field, Nelson will lead the way for a somewhat revamped offensive line that did not allow a sack against Buffalo. However, they will receive a much bigger challenge as they continue to recover from the 10-sack disaster in week one against Temple. Center Wendy Laurent could make his first appearance of the season, especially if the line continues to struggle. He was held out of the first two contests for unspecified reasons but will be available on Saturday. The redshirt sophomore looked impressive as he filled in during Donovan Smith's injury toward the end of 2014.
It's become clear that sophomore Chris Godwin has become Hackenberg's favorite target, but the team must find a way of getting the ball in the hands of DaeSean Hamilton and Geno Lewis, each playmakers in their own right. Tight end Mike Gesicki has tremendous ability and upside, but will need to bounce back from a poor week two performance where he dropped two potential touchdown passes. However, this all becomes moot if the line is unable to keep Hackenberg upright against a Scarlet Knights defense that will almost assuredly employ an extremely aggressive gameplan.
Penn State will try to carry over the momentum on the ground after the impressive debut of true freshman Saquon Barkley. While Akeel Lynch should remain the primary ballcarrier, Barkley demonstrated an incredible burst that could lead to many big plays throughout the season. He has the rare ability to take advantage of even the slightest of holes and can provide an extremely valuable spark to an otherwise lethargic offense.
One of the more crucial aspects of this game is stopping Rutgers return man Janarion Grant. The explosive sophomore scored on a punt and kick return in last week's contest against Washington State, and only needs a slight crease to get downfield in a hurry. In a game that could be a low-scoring affair like 2014, a special teams touchdown could easily swing the game in Rutgers' favor. Kicker Kyle Frederico has excellent range and has gradually improved each season. He connected on 16 of 21 field goals as a junior, and has made both attempts in 2015, including a 48-yarder in the loss to Washington State. Joey Roth is an extremely consistent punter with an average of 48.8 yards per punt in the first two weeks. He will be a valuable weapon for Rutgers in the field position battle on Saturday.
Speaking of field position, Penn State punter Daniel Pasquariello is coming off a poor performance against Buffalo that included punts of 27 and 33 yards. He'll need to improve or Chris Gulla may receive another shot at the starting role. Joey Julius has done a fantastic job putting kickoffs out of the end zone. Julius is perfect with field goals less than 35 yards but his sole failed attempt on the season was a 49-yarder that had the distance but sailed wide right.
PENN STATE- 17 RUTGERS- 14
Penn State and Rutgers are the two B1G teams in the most disarray thus far, which makes this game nearly impossible to predict. Rutgers has more offensive firepower, but between injuries and suspensions the quality is likely to decline. Penn State seems to have the edge on defense, but it's too early to tell how they will overcome the loss of Nyeem Wartman-White in the middle against more formidable opponents. While the Scarlet Knights defense struggled to slow down Washington State (who was held to just 17 points by FCS Portland State in week one), they were up to task of shutting down Penn State's offense last fall- plus, our offense has a way to make shaky defenses look like the '85 Bears. So I will do when what I always do when it's early to make an informed decision by making a total homer pick.
Each team finds the end zone in the first quarter, leading to a 7-7 stalemate for most of the game. Rutgers strikes again on a long touchdown pass to Janarion Grant to take the lead late in the third quarter, but Hackenberg makes enough plays and the running game comes takes advantage of a tired defense as Akeel Lynch scores on a short run to take the late lead.