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Penn State vs. Rutgers Game Preview

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The Nittany Lions hope to keep their Big Ten title hopes alive with a victory against the Scarlet Knights.

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Penn State Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Penn State looks to extend its win streak to seven with a prime time clash at Rutgers.

(8)Penn State (8-2, 6-1) vs. Rutgers (2-8, 0-7)

Kickoff: 8 p.m., High Point Solutions Stadium, Piscataway, NJ

The Betting Line: Penn State -28

TV: BTN- Kevin Kugler (play-by-play), Matt Millen (analyst), Lisa Byington (sideline)

Weather: A beautiful November day will turn cold by nightfall, with temperatures dipping into the 30s with a chance of late-night showers.

COACHES:

James Franklin:

PENN STATE RECORD: 22-14, 3rd Year

OVERALL RECORD: 46-29, 6th Year

VS. RUTGERS: 2-0

Chris Ash:

RUTGERS RECORD: 2-8, 1st Year

OVERALL RECORD: Same

VS. PENN STATE: 0-0

...NOW THE FUN PART

RUTGERS OFFENSE VS PENN STATE DEFENSE

Let’s start off with the most obvious and fundamental weakness for the Rutgers offense- their flat-out struggle to produce points. In five of seven Big Ten games, the Scarlet Knights have been held to seven points or less- Rutgers was shutout by Michigan, Ohio State and last week against Michigan State, and were held to just seven in losses to Iowa and Illinois. In fairness, they did come alive to produce 32 and 27 in losses to Minnesota and Indiana, respectively. Against any defenses with a pulse, including a seven point output against Washington in week one, the Scarlet Knights been completely unable to find any production.

Rutgers runs a fairly balanced offense. Giovanni Rescigno took over starting quarterback duties in week seven, but is 0-4 as a starter. In four starts he’s completed 52.1 percent of his passes for 638 yards, and five touchdowns to match five interceptions. He’s a large quarterback at 6-3, 224 lbs. who mainly stays in the pocket, but has deceiving speed and occasionally uses his legs to pick up a first down when he sees an opening.

Rescigno’s main targets are sophomore Juwuan Harris and Senior Andre Patton. At 6-3, Patton has excellent size, which is important to keep in mind considering Indiana’s tall receiving corps created some problems for the Nittany Lions secondary on Saturday. Harris checks in at 5-9, but uses his speed to find openings and is a major threat after the catch. The Scarlet Knights are without their top playmaker, Janarion Grant, who was lost for the season in a week four loss to Iowa. Harris is the team’s leading receiver, with 32 receptions for 400 yards and three touchdowns.

The Scarlet Knights like to split carries between junior Robert Martin and senior Justin Goodwin. Both have a physical style that aims to wear down a defense, although Martin is the bigger home run threat of the two. Martin is the team’s leading rusher, averaging 5.2 yards per carry and 547 on the season- 78.1 yards in the seven games he’s played on the season. Excluding the injured Grant’s three rushing touchdowns, Rutgers has only produced three touchdowns on the ground this season- one for Martin and two by Rescigno.

RUTGERS DEFENSE VS PENN STATE OFFENSE

For Rutgers to pull off the upset, they must continually control the line of scrimmage against a young and beat up Nittany Lions offensive line. Under normal circumstances, this wouldn’t be a terribly unlikely goal for a Big Ten defense. However, the Scarlet Knights are among the very bottom of the pack when it comes to stopping the run, giving up 251.3 yards per game on the ground, ranking at 124th nationally. Even with the current state of the offensive line, Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley could be in for a field day with the read-option attack.

Rutgers does a much better job defending the pass, boasting the 23rd ranked pass defense. However, that seems to be more of a symptom of teams not having to air it out against the Scarlet Knights and simply planning to move the ball on the ground at will.

McSorley is coming off one of his most productive days as a passer after throwing for 332 yards and two touchdowns against the Hoosiers, and will likely be looking deep once again with the headaches Chris Godwin and others continue to cause for secondaries. Keep an eye out for Irvin Charles, who James Franklin gave high praise earlier in the week by referring to him as maybe the most talented receiver he’s ever been around. It seems as though there has been a consistent effort to get the ball in the hands of the redshirt freshman, who continues to emerge in a group of very talented receivers.

Senior defensive lineman Julian Pinnix-Odrick is a force in the trenches for the Scarlet Knights and will certainly create problems for Penn State’s offensive line. He leads the team in both sacks (4.5) and tackles for loss (8.5), and should add to that total considering the difficulties of the offensive line with several key players sidelined by injuries. Junior safety Kiy Hester regularly makes play all over the field and will need to be held in check, especially when used off the edge.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Rutgers has an accurate kicker in senior David Bonagura, who is 10-of-12 on field goal attempts on the year with a long of 41 yards. Junior Michael Cintron gets plenty of work as the team’s punter. The Piscataway, NJ native has punted nine times in each of the past two games, and had a whopping 16 punts against Michigan earlier in the season. His average is 38.0 yards per punt on the season, but does have a strong leg and with regular kicks of 50-plus yards.

Janarion Grant was not only a playmaker that opened up the Scarlet Knights’ offense, he was also among the most explosive return men in the nation. With him on the sideline, Rutgers has lost the ability to score, or at least gain major yardage, every time he’s back deep. Jawuan Harris has taken over punt return duties and averages just 3.2 yards per return, while Justin Goodwin averages 19.2 yards per return.

John Reid seems to be back as the full-time punt returner, and was more than impressive against Indiana. Between him and Miles Sanders as the kick returner, it seems to be a matter of time before Penn State finally breaks their return touchdown streak that dates all the way back to week one of the 2011 season.

PREDICTION

Penn State- 48, Rutgers-10

The injuries along the offensive line have taken a toll, and seemed to be at a breaking point last week as the Nittany Lions needed a fourth quarter rally to escape an upset at Indiana. The overall inexperience and current lack of depth should be alarming for any Nittany Lions fan, considering that poor play by that unit can completely sink a game plan, leading to a lack of production and oftentimes a tired defense that wears down in the second half.

Fortunately for the Nittany Lions, they’re running into Rutgers at just the right time. Even with a banged up line, the current starters should be able to get the job done against a shoddy Scarlet Knights defense on Saturday. It also gives them more time to gel, and as we’ve learned from this team, experience and familiarity goes a long way with a young group that continues to buck expectations and improve in front of our eyes on a weekly basis.

Saquon Barkley finishes with three touchdowns, including a 60-yard scamper while Miles Sanders hits the century mark for the first time as a Nittany Lion. For the third time in four weeks, Chris Godwin finds the end zone twice. Penn State’s defensive line puts on a show, with Garrett Sickels leading the charge with 2.5 sacks, while Kevin Givens and Evan Schwan also chipping in 1.5 apiece. Curtis Cothran also contributes 3 tackles for loss and a pass deflection.