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31 Random Thoughts on Rutgers

Musings from a weekend of renewal against a Big Ten Powerhouse

Rutgers v Penn State Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

After two consecutive losses that likely knocked them out of the running for the College Football Playoff, the Penn State Nittany Lions returned home to face the Rutgers Scarlet Knights on Saturday afternoon. The Lions emerged victorious, 35-6. I have some thoughts, which are randomly set forth below.

  1. Everything old is new again. That’s especially true for Penn State football these days.
  2. Once upon a time, when a coach with thick glasses, rolled up pants, and white socks roamed the sideline, Penn State played Rutgers regularly.
  3. And by played, I mean dominated. As in, lost exactly once in the modern era. In 1988.
  4. Otherwise, this has been a series that has...not been much of a series. It’s basically been a one-sided affair.
  5. Once Rutgers joined the Big Ten, this became commonly referred to as a “rivalry.” And at that time, maybe it wasn’t such a stretch that it would turn into one. Rutgers had grown into a competent program with quality players and Penn State was recovering from the Sandusky sanctions. More than ever, these two teams were evenly matched.
  6. In 2014, these two teams played each other for the first time since 1995. It was Rutgers first home game in the Big Ten and the crowd was amped. It was the event of the football season for the Scarlet Knights, who were intent on proving they were a Big Ten powerhouse.
  7. That’s exactly what happened in the first half. At the close of the second quarter, Big Ten Powerhouse Rutgers was up 10-0 on poor Penn State. The stars were aligned for Rutgers to emerge as a player in the Big Ten East.
  8. And then, suddenly, they were not.
  9. Since halftime in 2014, Rutgers hasn’t scored a touchdown against Penn State. Not a single one.
  10. In fact, since halftime 2014, Rutgers has scored exactly 9 points against the Nittany Lions.
  11. Six of those came in the first quarter of Saturday’s game in Beaver Stadium. Considering the last two games, the crowd was right to be concerned. Considering the last three years against Rutgers, you might say that everyone overreacted.
  12. On the other hand, the issue is a little more complicated for me. Penn State wasn’t in danger of losing this game at any point. There was no question that the Nittany Lions were vastly more talented and it was likely that they would pull away and win comfortably.
  13. Still, the first quarter felt indicative of a serious problem. Here was a team whose hopes were dashed by a 15-point fourth quarter comeback by Ohio State and a rainy disaster against Michigan State in which they lost on a last second field goal. Now, the team went out and laid an egg against Rutgers in the first quarter.
  14. There are plenty of advanced metrics in college football now, but I think momentum plays a much bigger role here than virtually any other sport. Winning begats winning, losing begats losing. The line is narrow.
  15. Momentum is why I will forever believe that the reason Nebraska finished 7-7 in 2002 was because the Nittany Lions stole their mojo in September in front of a then-record crowd of 110,753 Penn Staters.
  16. Momentum matters. This was a team that rode the momentum of an overtime win against Minnesota into a late-game, program-changing victory against Ohio State. Then they rode that victory and good vibes all the way to the Rose Bowl and the Big Ten Title.
  17. Losing that momentum is a critical error. That’s why the first quarter of Saturday’s game was so concerning. That’s why most of what I’m writing today has to do with that.
  18. A lot has been said about Saquon Barkley’s Heisman candidacy and Penn State’s offensive line, but I’ll say this - we win lots of games by lots of points when opponents decide that Barkley is not going to embarrass them.
  19. Multiple teams have basically decided to intentionally walk him and pitch to Trace McSorley rather than play Barkley straight up and let him swing away.
  20. Nowhere was that more evident than on the play on Saturday where McSorley and Barkley ran the speed option left. Rather than play straight up, Rutgers defenders darted toward Barkley and gifted McSorley free yards. It was ridiculous.
  21. I’d love Barkley to put up big stats as much as anyone, but no one in college football gets more respect than this kid, period. It’s well earned and deserved.
  22. You could understand how he could be frustrated, though.
  23. I’m exhausted after hearing Matt Millen on commentary. I bet Mike Gesicki is really thrilled to hear how terrible he is at blocking on repeat for 3 hours.
  24. A few years ago, Millen talked up Tate Forcier as if he was on the same level as Daryll Clark. Clark and the Lions promptly ate Michigan’s lunch and made Forcier look foolish.
  25. Welcome to the 2017 Rutgers game, wherein Millen spoke in glowing terms about Giovanni Rescigno.
  26. Of note, Rescigno finished the game with 43 yards passing . He was 7 of 20.
  27. Meanwhile, Trace McSorley earned that Unitas Award finalist banner with a very solid performance, including on the ground.
  28. That said, I think Chris Ash is doing a fine job for the Scarlet Knights. He just has the tough luck of being in the most difficult division in college football.
  29. Ultimately, there’s not a lot to say about this game, much to Rutgers’ fans dismay. Penn State came out flat, got it together, and walked away with a 29 point win. Just keep climbing the polls.
  30. On to Nebraska.
  31. We are...