The Penn State defense has been under scrutiny for the past couple of weeks due to not being able to slam the door on its competition when needed. This week the competition was a bit less, let’s say, competitive, but Jason Cabinda and his teammates were up to the task.
When Rutgers started with a short field to open the game, the defense held the Scarlet Knights to a field goal. Later it held a promising drive to just three points again, keeping the game closer than it could have been, 14-0 instead of 6-0, as the Penn State offense needed time to find itself. Joe Moorhead’s offense finally kicked into gear, scoring 35 consecutive points to finish the game.
Let’s take a look at some of the defensive plays along the way to this very satisfying win on Homecoming weekend.
The defense was immediately put under pressure when Saquon Barkley misplayed the opening kickoff and Rutgers recovered while already in field goal range. A few plays later the Scarlet Knights took a 3-point lead without registering a first down. The next possession started deep inside Rutgers territory when Blake Gillikin got off a nice punt to the six yard line.
After allowing a couple of first downs the Penn State defense toughened up. Brandon Smith made a nice tackle on third down to contain the fleet-footed Rutgers quarterback Giovanni Rescigno.
Smith started in place of Manny Bowen, who was not dressed for the game. On the next possession the Lions were not able to do anything with the ball, punting it back to the Scarlet Knights. On the next series Nick Scott made a great tackle on third down to force a 4th and inches. Rutgers went for it and converted at midfield, continuing well inside Penn State territory. On second and goal Tyrell Chavis used his head to create a 3rd and long. It was Chavis’ second ball defended on the drive.
The Lions defense held from there, limiting the damage to a field goal. Trace McSorley led the offense down the field, capping the drive with a 20-yard touchdown run. After a sluggish first quarter, PSU had a 7-6 lead.
Rutgers started at their own 6 yard line after a penalty and a short kickoff return. After a great tackle by Marcus Allen on second down, Beaver Stadium got loud for the first time on the day. Allen encouraged the noise from his safety spot and on the next down, the defense forced the first three and out of the day.
Rutgers’ defense answered the call, forcing PSU to punt the ball back three plays later. On first down Shane Simmons made a nice play for a tackle for a loss to set the tone for the series.
Two plays later PSU got the ball back following the second-consecutive three and out. Again McSorley brought the troops down the field, this time while time was winding down in the first half. DaeSean Hamilton had a touchdown grab to give the Lions a 14-6 lead with 1:13 left before halftime. The defense stepped up as well, forcing Rutgers to take a knee rather than punt the ball back to the Lions to end the half.
On the opening kickoff of the second half, Tyler Davis did his best Joey Julius impression, covering his own kick, putting his helmet on the ball and forcing a fumble.
The next series ended with a long sack of McSorley, knocking the Lions out of field goal range. Blake Gillikin pinned the Scarlet Knights deep with a punt to the 8 yard line. The defense held serve, with a nice tackle on third and long by Troy Apke to keep Rescigno short of the first down. Grant Haley blitzed on the play, flushing the quarterback out of the pocket. Brandon Smith was in position in the middle, and Apke held the edge. You can see Haley creeping up from his slot position just before the snap.
Penn State’s offense got it in gear once it got the ball back. Trace McSorley showed his toughness. On second down he took a hard and legal hit to the head as he was getting tackled. That’s some chin music that he’d rather not have to listen to.
On the next play he passed the ball to DaeSean Hamilton, who lateraled to Saquon Barkley, who then nearly flew into the end zone from several yards out. Barkley scored a touchdown two plays later. On the next defensive series Rutgers took the ball at the 40 after two penalties on the kickoff. On third and short, looking to protect a 15-point lead, Shareef Miller provided the pass rush while Cam Brown nearly got an interception.
A play later, smelling wafts of defeat lingering in the air, Rutgers tried a fake punt. The problem is, the critical block to make on the play was on middle linebacker Jason Cabinda, who was neither fooled or blocked.
Saquon Barkley added another touchdown to give the Lions a 28-6 lead moments later. Penn State held Rutgers to three plays on offense before getting the ball back to start the fourth quarter.
Rutgers got the ball back deep in its own territory, with the noise in Beaver Stadium raining down on them from above. On third down the Lions backed off on the pass rush, bringing just three while dropping eight players in coverage. It paid off, as there were ample tacklers there to keep a complete pass to a minimum gain.
The play got the ball back in the hands of Joe Moorhead’s offense but more importantly it ended any thoughts of a comeback that Rutgers may have had. With the game all but over and 11:52 remaining on the clock, the offense ran the ball and let the clock wind down. A Mike Gesicki touchdown capped a drive that went 62 yards but more importantly took an even 5 minutes off the clock.
A wave of defensive substitutions came on the field when Rutgers got the ball back, signifying the end of what was a competitive football game. On a third down, Penn State fans got a glimpse of two players that should have an impact in the near future. Shaka Toney got pressure on the quarterback and Tariq Castro-Fields nearly recorded the second interception of his career.
Rutgers went for it on 4th and 3 and converted against the future stars of Penn State’s defense. Ayron Monroe and Antonio Shelton combined on this third down for a critical sack.
On fourth down freshman Lamont Wade defended on a pass that went incomplete, preserving the 35-6 lead. Penn State took over and downed the ball to end the game.