It's no secret that Rutgers would be limping into Beaver Stadium on Saturday night after the suspension of head coach Kyle Flood this week, adding onto the loss of several players due to various off-the-field issues. However, no one knew how bad it would be until the Scarlet Knights played under the big lights in Happy Valley surrounded by a striped out blue and white crowd.
Many believed we'd see a repeat of last season's slugfest, but from the get-go, Penn State looked determined to find a rhythm and get on the board early after receiving the opening kickoff. It seemed like the Nittany Lions would do just that after a slant to DaeSean Hamilton and a run by Akeel Lynch put Penn State in good position, but three straight penalties stalled the strong start and forced a punt. From there, the defense took over. For the majority of the first half, it seemed Rutgers could only go backwards -- with Penn State stuffing almost every rush attempt the Scarlet Knights had while pressuring quarterback Chris Laviano.
Rutgers started to drive into Penn State territory midway into the first after a Jordan Lucas personal foul, but the Nittany Lions were able to stall the drive with more strong defensive play. While neither team managed a score in the first 15 minutes, Penn State put together a drive that started with a pass to Chris Godwin for 30 yards and added a couple of good runs from Lynch and Saquon Barkley that helped them end the quarter at the Rutgers' 30.
Brandon Polk started the second quarter picking up a 3rd-and-2 for Penn State with a six yard run that took the Nittany Lions to just outside the Rutgers red zone. Another wonderful third down conversion, this time a 13-yard pass from Christian Hackenberg to Hamilton, set up Penn State for their first score of the evening, a two yard end around run from DeAndre Thompkins for the 7-0 Nittany Lion lead with less than three minutes gone in the second.
The first possession for Rutgers in the second quarter didn't fare much better than many of their others, starting with a five-yard illegal procedure penalty and ending on a 4th-and-8 for another three-and-out by the Penn State defense. While the next two drives for Penn State and Rutgers were short and unsuccessful, the Nittany Lions came alive again with 5:33 to play in the quarter after a 48-yard pass to Hamilton from Hackenberg set Penn State up at the Rutgers' 42 yard line. The offense almost stalled on an incomplete screen pass, but Barkley managed to break through the Scarlet Knights' defense for a 14-yard run for a touchdown, his first of the night and the second of his career.
The ensuing Rutgers possession only went for five plays and 12 yards, with Laviano almost throwing an interception to Lucas in the process. However, after the punt return by Thompkins that set up Penn State at their 25 yard line with 1:14 to go in the half, Lynch exploded through the center of Rutgers' defense untouched for a 75-yard touchdown that extended Penn State's lead to a certainly insurmountable 21-0. For good measure, Grant Haley picked off an errant Laviano pass on the final Rutgers' possession of the second to end a positive first half for the Nittany Lions.
Rutgers and Penn State traded punts to start the second half after both teams went for four yards on a three-and-out. Then somehow, Rutgers had started to find some life in a three touchdown deficit with their passing game. Laviano completed three passes of over 10 yards on the drive, but John Reid stepped up for the Nittany Lions, picking off a pass and carrying it down to the Rutgers' 35 after the Scarlet Knights had made their way to just outside the Penn State 30. Despite the wonderful field position, Penn State came up short with no points after losing a yard on first down, a 10-yard Barkley run, then a Hackenberg incompletion on 3rd-and-1 and no gain on a fourth down attempt. While both teams continued to stall, freshman Barkley continued to pile on the yards for Penn State despite neither side gaining any sort of advantage.
Until the fourth quarter, when Rutgers finally found its running game, which up until that point had been less than nonexistent. On what felt like Rutgers' longest drive of the game, Laviano finally found his groove, completing a string of passes while running back Josh Hicks picked up a crucial 16-yard run on a first down that brought them into Penn State territory on the second play of the fourth. Rutgers got to Penn State's 11 yard line before being shut down by the defense. A five yard delay of game penalty backed them up, but kicker Kyle Federico nailed a 34 yarder to make it 21-3 Penn State.
Barkley and Lynch contributed heavily on the next drive, pushing Penn State down to the Rutgers' 23 yard line. Barkley in particular had a standout run of 40 yards on the drive, almost breaking it to the house but the freshman got tripped up at the last second by a Rutgers' defenseman. The rush gave Penn State their first two 100-yard rushers in a game since 2010, not bad for a team that has struggled on the ground in recent years. However, the drive was stopped after Hackenberg was picked off for the first time in the game at the one yard line on a ball intended for Godwin that had too much hang time.
The next Rutgers possession with 7:57 to play started on what looked to be a sure-fire safety after Hicks was completely surrounded by blue in the end zone, but the Rutgers running back managed to escape with some wizardry to their 20 yard line. On the very next play, Laviano fired a 30-yard completion to Andre Patton to put Rutgers on the midfield line. After the two positive Rutgers plays, Penn State thought they had recovered a fumble with a runback for a touchdown, but the play was called off as a sack instead. Thankfully, Penn State buckled down and forced Rutgers to punt on a 4th-and-39 after multiple sacks forced the Scarlet Knights back.
The last big drive of the evening fell on the shoulders of Barkley, with the freshman pulling out a 54-yard run to the Rutgers' 16 yard line, then following it up with a touchdown to give us the final score of 28-3, Penn State. The defense did have one last big play, as Reid recovered a Rutgers fumble to end the game with just over four minutes left to seal the win for Penn State.
Overall, it was an impressive showing for Penn State against a weakened Rutgers team. This team looks far and away from where they were just a few weeks ago against Temple.
Three Completely Unrelated, Probably Useless Thoughts
- As you may have noticed, it's not Matt doing the Hey, Wha Happen this week! Instead, the mantle falls to me this time, and for a few more weeks this season. Regardless of not watching half the game -- and more than half the points -- thanks to work, it's clear that the story of this game is not the pass protection Hackenberg has finally started to receive, or the quietly solid special teams work, but the tandem of running backs that Penn State has put together. While he's just a freshman, Barkley has quickly become the star of this offense, helping Penn State to 330 rushing yards in Saturday's game, more than Rutgers had in total yards through all four quarters. Lynch too has made strides forward as a running back, bolstering this duo to one the Nittany Lions haven't seen in years.
- The Stripe Out worked, to many a surprise -- including my own. It's not that I didn't have faith in you guys, but it's hard to coordinate a white out without patches of odd colors, much less 10-plus stripes of alternating blue and white. Regardless, it looked spectacular on my tiny phone when I was trying to catch highlights during work, then even more amazing once I finally saw it in movement. A+ guys.
- On another side note, there were fireworks before the game and after halftime. We're 1-0 with the fireworks. Keep it up, Beaver Stadium crew.