Like all things in 2020 it wasn’t pretty, but Penn State improved to 2-5 on Saturday, taking down Rutgers 23-7.
The story of the day was Penn State controlling the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Offensively, the Nittany Lions pounded the rock continuously, running the ball 57 times to the tune of 248 yards. True freshman Keyvone Lee, once again, was the leading rusher for the Nittany Lions, running for 95 yards on 17 carries. Meanwhile sophomore Devyn Ford returned from injury and looked the best he has all season, adding in 65 yards on just 11 carries.
And of course, Penn State offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca leaned heavily on the Will Levis package, as the 6-foot-3, 222-pound backup quarterback ran the ball 17 times for 65 yards. While Levis picked up quite a few first downs in short yardage situations, it seemed like the Penn State offense was a bit over reliant on it. Make no mistake, Levis is a punishing runner, but one would think the purpose of the Levis package would be to have the defense on its toes not expecting run or pass. At least today, Penn State didn’t even try to have Levis throw a pass, which seems like it would be one of the advantages of having Levis back there.
Perhaps what is most frustrating though is that Penn State jumped out to a 17-0 lead in the first 23 minutes of play — to then completely turtle up the rest of the day, only managing six points. That being said, it might have been for the right reasons: it was very windy in Piscataway, and if there’s anything we know about the Penn State quarterbacks this year, its their penchant for turning the ball over. As frustrating as it is, that might just be how the Nittany Lions need to play.
Here’s the key though: if you play that way, you need a very strong performance from the defense, which is exactly what Penn State got today. Brent Pry’s unit dominated Rutgers from the start of the game, forcing 7 punts and only allowing a touchdown following — you guessed it — a Penn State turnover.
Yes, this Rutgers offense isn’t going to be confused for Alabama or Clemson. But they aren’t as pathetic as they have been in the past. Going into this game, Rutgers had scored at least 20 points against every opponent, and was ranked 5th in the Big Ten with 30.8 points per game. Credit to a Penn State defense that was playing fast, hitting hard, and didn’t give up the big play all day.
As I said last week, a win is a win is a win. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t sexy, but it was a win for a program that needs them. However it may look, the goal is clear: get to 4-5 and try to reclaim whatever momentum is possible.