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No. 14 Penn State vs. Rutgers: Game Preview

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Penn State returns home as they attempt to shake off a two-game losing streak with a victory against Rutgers.

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

Penn State tries to recover from consecutive losses while Rutgers attempts to keep its bowl hopes alive on a Homecoming afternoon in Happy Valley.

(7) Penn State (7-2, 4-2) vs. Rutgers (4-5, 3-3)

Kickoff: Noon, Beaver Stadium, State College, PA

The Betting Line: Penn State -31

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

Weather: Cold, with temperatures hovering around freezing but very little chance of snow or rain.

COACHES:

James Franklin:

PENN STATE RECORD: 32-17, 4th Year

OVERALL RECORD: 56-32, 7th Year

VS. RUTGERS: 3-0

CHRIS ASH:

RUTGERS RECORD: 6-15, 2nd Year

OVERALL RECORD: Same

VS. PENN STATE: 0-1

NOW THE FUN PART....

RUTGERS OFFENSE VS. PENN STATE DEFENSE

Just two weeks ago, Penn State had the top scoring defense in the nation allowing just 9.3 points per contest, and a secondary that seemed to be one of the best in college football. After two poor performances in losses to Ohio State and Michigan State, Penn State must suddenly figure out what went wrong that has allowed so many breakdowns in coverage the last two weeks.

Fortunately, Penn State will not be facing against a top-flight aerial attack this week. However, Michigan State was able to benefit after Ohio State created a blueprint on how to attack Penn State’s defense. Can Rutgers now follow suit?

Probably not. The Scarlet Knights are not a prolific passing offense by any means, averaging just 127 yards a game. Rutgers has shuffled around quarterbacks with senior Giovanni Rescigno now taking control of the offense. He is completing just over 50 percent of his passes on the season, with two touchdowns to one interception. Rescigno’s game-highs for yards is just 107, and 18 for attempts. He has yet to complete more than nine passes in his four starts. Rescigno has the size of a standard dropback passer at 6-3, 230 lbs., but can also run with the ball when given a crease. He rushed for 54 yards on six attempts in the Scarlet Knight’s 31-24 victory against Maryland on Saturday.

Rutgers prefers to keep the ball on the ground and wear down a defense. They have some talented backs, led by Gus Edwards. The senior has picked up at least 91 yards in three of the last four games, which coincidentally enough were all victories. While he does most of his damage between the tackles, he also contains the explosiveness to break off a long run from time to time. Fellow senior Robert Martin is also an effective back who steps in to relieve Edwards throughout the game. He contributed 69 yards and a touchdown last week against Maryland.

Rutgers leading receiver is tight end Jerome Washington, who has 24 catches for 253 yards and a touchdown. He will almost certainly be used to challenge Penn State’s linebackers, who have struggled in coverage the last two weeks. Senior Janarion Grant is a dangerous option, but has been limited by the lethargic passing game. He only has four receptions in the past four weeks. Rutgers does try to get creative with him, and he did have five carries for 71 yards and a touchdown against Michigan recently.

RUTGERS DEFENSE VS. PENN STATE OFFENSE

Penn State desperately needs to get its rushing attack back on track, and will have an opportunity to work things out against the nation’s 86th-ranked rush defense. However, it’s far from a guarentee as the Nittany Lions have struggled to run the ball against teams with similar run defenses.

Rutgers does a slightly better job defending the pass, coming in at 54th nationally by allowing 214.3 yards through the air. While it will be a cold afternoon in Happy Valley on Saturday, the conditions will be much improved compared to Michigan State that didn’t help McSorley and the receiving crew’s sloppy play.

While the Scarlet Knights do a solid job covering their ground and preventing the big play, they are not adept at getting into the backfield and being disruptive, averaging just 1.3 sacks per game and 3.9 TFLS, which is one of the worst in the nation. Senior defensive end Kemoko Turay has freakish athletic ability, and could prove problematic for Chasz Wright and Will Fries, who have both struggled at the tackle positions. K.J. Gray is an up-and-coming safety who excels in coverage and can also come up and support the run when needed. Linebaker and Pennsylvania native Trevor Morris leads the team in tackles, and will look to put on a show in his backyard.

Penn State’s offense has faced scrutiny after having difficulty moving the ball consistently in consecutive losses to Michigan State and Ohio State. Rutgers will provide an interesting test. While they do not have a dominating front seven like Penn State has seen in recent weeks, they have taken a huge leap forward from a year ago and are a better defensive team than most people realize.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Rutgers kicker Andrew Harte has gone five of eight on the season, and nailed a 50-yard attempt on Saturday against Maryland. They have perhaps the nation’s best punter in senior Ryan Anderson, who is averaging 44 yards per attempt, and has a punt of 60 yards or more in six games this season.

Tyler Davis has connected on his last three field goal attempts after a shaky start to the season, but none of those have been more than 26 yards. It seems like Franklin is more inclined to roll the dice on fourth downs rather than attempt a field goal longer than 35 yards.

Rutgers is one of the top teams in the nation in defending kickoffs, but one of the worst at defending punts. While they may be able to slow down Saquon Barkley on kick returns, they will still need to worry about punting the ball to DeAndre Thompkins, who is always a threat in the open field.

PREDICTION

Penn State-35 Rutgers-10

It’s easy to think the Nittany Lions could struggle to get up for this game, seeing how they are coming off two incredibly difficult losses and have much less to play for than a couple weeks ago. Not only has it been an emotional stretch, it’s also been tough physically after playing three demanding opponents, as well as losing some key starters to injury.

However, I think they bounce back and get some of their mojo back by returning to the friendly confines of Beaver Stadium. While the playoff dreams will be deferred to another season, there is still plenty to play for as the team is three winnable games from a 10-win season and respectable bowl game.

Penn State gets off to a slow start, but a touchdown late in the second quarter gives them a 14-7 lead and some momentum heading into half time, which carries over with some big plays that lead to a comfortable victory for the homecoming crowd.

DaeSean Hamilton has another 100-yard plus receiving day, while Saquon Barkley and DeAndre Thompkins joins him with receiving touchdowns. Trace McSorley tosses for more than 300-yards for the consecutive week, while Miles Sanders breaks open a long touchdown run. On defense, Shaka Toney contributes two sacks while Jason Cabinda adds another, along with 13 tackles and forced fumble.