On Saturday afternoon, the Penn State Nittany Lions traveled east to Piscataway, New Jersey to take on the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at High Point Solutions Stadium in a game of American football. The Nittany Lions emerged victorious, 20-7. I have several thoughts, which are set forth randomly below:
- I feel like I’ve written this post before.
- Two years ago, I talked about how “dreadfully boring” this game was.
- I also wondered what Chris Ash was drinking to take his mind off his team’s play when he got home each Saturday night.
- Last year, I talked about how Rutgers hadn’t scored a single touchdown in 10 quarters against Penn State, and how Penn State had outscored them 87-9 over that span.
- Some things never change, I suppose. This game was, for the third straight year, dreadfully boring. And truly, the “New Jersey Special” would make me look for the first bottle of brown liquor I could find.
- I guess at the end of the day, I think this game basically says nothing about Penn State football that we didn’t already know. It does say a lot about Rutgers, and none of it is good.
- It says that despite facing an opponent insistent on starting a somewhat dinged up starting quarterback that limited the team’s offensive output, Rutgers couldn’t manage to put a quarterback on the field that looked like they could do anything more than act as a tackling dummy.
- I mean, Trace McSorley’s numbers were objectively poor this game - 17 of 37 for 183 yards, 2 touchdowns and a pick. But compare to Rutgers two quarterbacks - starter Artur Sitowski (3 of 7, 18 yards, 2 interceptions) and Giovanni Rescigno (2 of 8 for 28 yards).
- My God, looking at those numbers collectively is horrifying. Rutgers completed 5 total passes for less than 50 yards.
- My favorite announcer exchange of the weekend:
“Rutgers will have to pass at some point now.”
“And it’s a pop fly interception by Garrett Taylor. Hard to wrap your mind around what that was.”
Yes. It was hard to wrap your mind around that pass.
11. Now’s a good time to remind you all that last year, Rescigno was the starting quarterback and completed 7 passes in 20 attempts for 43 yards. And this is the guy they brought in because Sitowski couldn’t get it going?
12. I suppose the quarterback depth chart at Rutgers isn’t as impressive as the running backs.
13. He took a lot of flack for that, and rightfully so. But you gotta give Dunleavy credit though - he found a way to make up for it.
14. The Rutgers backfield is probably the most...impressive (?)...part of that squad? I don’t think they were great, but they were competent, which is more than you can say for the rest of the roster.
15. How do you know Rutgers is that terrible? The crowd gave a score-like cheer when Isaih Pacheco got the first Rutgers first down after 12 minutes of game time. Pacheco got into the act too, showing off his solid referee form by calling his own first down.
16. Of course, at that point, it was only 3-0 Penn State, and it seemed plausible that Rutgers could break a random 30 yard touchdown run at any time, which certainly would have launched Penn State twitter into the stratosphere. Fortunately (unfortunately?) we didn’t get to see that meltdown this weekend.
17. You have to give a fair amount of credit to the Penn State defense, which is finally starting to look like...well, a Penn State defense. Rutgers had two reasonably decent drives all day, both of which occurred with a reasonably secure Penn State lead - 13-0 for the first, and 20-0 on the second. Otherwise, the front seven continues to take the next step toward excellence and the secondary cleaned up the Rutgers mess. They did what every good defense is supposed to do to a team like Rutgers - hold the line, get to the quarterback, and wait for the opposition to turn inevitably turn the ball over.
18. In a world where Penn State has seen double digit fourth quarter leads fade on numerous occasions and where two professional teams on Monday Night Football combine for 105 points, it’s hard to fathom a 13 point lead feeling safe. But that’s exactly what happened on Saturday. Make no mistake, Penn State didn’t play particularly well, but Rutgers was never a threat - not for a single solitary second. Which is exactly why this game played out as it did.
19. The passing game has seen its fair share of problems all year, particularly after the loss to Ohio State. Typically, that’s been related to wide receiver inconsistency. Penn State struggled to pass again this week, but it had little to do with the receivers. Instead, it was Trace McSorley who looked uncomfortable, airmailing KJ Hamler and throwing behind some of his other targets.
20. The McSorley pick in the second half appears to be an interesting example - after picking up a first down on the ground, Trace steps up in the pocket and heaves the ball downfield to Justin Shorter. But the ball is thrown behind Shorter and the pass is intercepted.
21. There’s something to wonder about here, though. For the last two years, Penn State has thrown back shoulder for big gains. It was an offensive staple. We also had receivers who were able to adjust to the ball in mid-air, like this:
22. Saeed Blacknall was inconsistent throughout his career, but he was also a junior who was able to adjust to the ball in space and make a play on it. Justin Shorter is a true freshman who is just receiving his first real game reps now. One of these things is not like the other...
23. Plenty of Penn Staters have spent much of the season calling for Justin Shorter and Jahan Dotson to be significantly more involved in the game plan. But prior to this year, Juwan Johnson and DeAndre Thompkins appeared to be well established, Brandon Polk had some experience as well, and KJ Hamler had been in the program for a year and was the most electric player on the field. Truth be told, the Nittany Lions shouldn’t have needed either Dotson or Shorter.
24. Now that they do need them because of a combination of injury and under-performance, Penn State is in a situation where Trace McSorley has to work with inexperienced receivers on nearly every play. Sometimes that works out well, as in the case of Jahan Dotson. But sometimes the timing is just off, and there’s only one thing that will fix it - reps. Lots of them.
25. Unfortunately, we’re well past the time for “lots of reps.” We’re 11 games into a 13 game season.
26. Look, I believe Tommy Stevens and Sean Clifford are both going to be quite good in blue and white in the coming years, and no, Trace McSorley did not play well on Saturday. But anyone who expected James Franklin to pull Trace in the game where he breaks the Penn State record for most wins by a starting quarterback is essentially in video game mode. This game was at hand and never was there any remote risk of a Penn State loss. Trace McSorley is James Franklin’s ride or die and has played a key role in returning the Nittany Lions to the national stage. Absent something catastrophic, he’s your quarterback.
27. Now that we’ve locked that record down, let’s move on to beating Maryland and praying for the Peach Bowl.
28. We are...