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Any Port In A Storm, Even Piscataway

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The Lions had their best performance of the season as winter’s cold hands took a firm grip on the country.

A rough sea at Porto Venere... Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images

It was a brisk day with high wind gusts as a Nor’easter ran up the east coast. The elements were not conducive to passing but the Lions were able to do enough damage on the ground to secure the second win of the season. It appears that the Penn State football program has weathered the storm of a disappointing start, heading into the final match-up of the regular season on a two-game win streak.

It’s hard to know what will happen in the coming weeks but it remains a possibility that the Lions could finish with a 5-5 record. It would require two more Big Ten wins, one against Michigan State next week and then one in the following week during Championship Week. From there, the team would have to be selected to play in a bowl game and then win. There are a lot of variables in the equation that James Franklin and his team do not control. Considering where the ship was sailing just a couple of weeks ago, in turbulent white caps with no safe port in sight, the captain has to be satisfied with the direction of his craft.

Franklin’s tenure was taking on water and there were plenty of people that were ready to poke holes in the success that he has had in recent years, sending him sinking slowly into the abyss. Now the dinghies that were throwing insults toward the successful football coach, and good man, find themselves looking for a life raft among a sea of rodents.

The Penn State community has always been about so much more than just winning games. The camaraderie that has taken generations to build can easily endure a few tough months, it has been proven so in the past. We are now at the beginning of a new era. Where it leads, who knows for sure?

We know that the five-game losing streak is over and that it will, hopefully, remain as a historical low-point that will be remembered for decades. The good news is that it appears to have come and gone like a quick and powerful late-fall storm, leaving a small mess that has to be dealt with but not lingering for very long.

Under normal circumstances that would be an overly dramatic way of relaying the information that Penn State has beaten Rutgers at the game of football. Had the Lions lost there would be little to play for in the coming weeks and many fans would be that much more despondent. Now there is hope that the wreckage of the start of the season can be washed away and cleansed, this year, by some waves of success.

How It Happened

James Franklin’s team took control early and never really looked back. While it was just a 7-0 lead well into the second quarter, the game had a feel that Rutgers was already in trouble before halftime. Penn State used long drives, gaining most of its yardage on the ground, to add ten more points midway through the game for a 17-0 lead.

The defense played well enough to keep the Scarlet Knights from mounting a comeback in the second half and Kirk Ciarrocca’s offense continued to possess the ball and grind out the clock. After a Penn State fumble gave Rutgers the ball just 36 yards from the end zone, the only touchdown allowed on the day was surrendered by Brent Pry’s defense. It took a miraculous throw on 4th down to break the shutout, as the Lions gave up just that one short-field scoring drive.

The Lions’ success on Saturday can be seen in the rushing statistics. Keyvone Lee nearly topped 100 yards on the ground for the second straight week and would have had he not shared the backfield with two other players. The quarterbacks got 25 carries between them so that also cut into Lee’s chances; the freshman back seems to be moving forward at all times, even while he is covered with several tacklers. Legend has it that Lee has to nail his bed frame to the floor at night or else he’d wake up several blocks from his house without even leaving his bed. He doesn’t sleepwalk, he’s just always moving downhill.

The offensive line also provided a great deal of time for Sean Clifford to throw the ball. As commentator Matt Millen pointed out early and often, it was the success in the trenches that allowed the Lions to dominate. Will Levis was in the game at quarterback for nearly 20 plays but he did not attempt a pass. It appears that Levis will continue to be used in short yardage situations as a runner, but for now, Clifford has secured the starting job and most of the heavy lifting.

KeAndre Lambert-Smith caught a career-high 4 passes and looked solid out there. There weren’t that many receptions to go around, as each team had trouble throwing the ball downfield with the heavy wind and light precipitation on the day. Penn State averaged 6 yards per passing attempt and Rutgers 3.8.

Lambert-Smith grabbed a few screen passes and showed good hands while catching the ball, one pass was high and he had to leave his feet to haul it in. He also turned up field nicely, looking confident that he could secure the ball and run with it. It isn’t that long ago that Penn State struggled to find more than one wide receiver that could reliably catch the ball. Now it seems like the entire team is prone to making the play rather than not, which is a great change from recent years.

Jahan Dotson and Parker Washington only caught 5 catches combined but they were not targeted often on the day. Washington dropped a would-be first down that he had normally been able to hold on to this year. Isaac Lutz showed that he wasn’t a fluke last week, following up his lone catch with two more this week. Lutz has 4 career catches including the pair on Saturday. The former walk-on from Reading, Pennsylvania is making the most of his chances when he gets on the field.

Lutz was surprised on the practice field a year ago when he was told that his hard work and sacrifice had paid off with a scholarship. It’s never a bad time to see the reaction to the news and you can hear that more than one person in the video has a runny nose. They probably celebrated with hot dogs and freshly cut onions, which may have been nearby and out of the picture, causing the issue.

"Baby bro Lutz is ON SCHOLARSHIP!" Jan Johnson shares that Isaac Lutz has earned a scholarship! Well-deserved, 8⃣5⃣!! We Are...

Posted by Penn State Football on Saturday, April 6, 2019

As we go through a season that has had the attention taken away from the action on the field from time to time, it’s nice to see Lutz getting some playing time. The three catches that he has had in the past two games, each wins for the Lions, will certainly be highlights for him when he walks off the field for the final time and enters the non-football playing world.

The Penn State defense was sturdy for the entire game, not allowing Rutgers to get comfortable. Other than one drive that ended in a touchdown, which required a short-yardage Hail Mary on 4th and goal, Brent Pry’s squad did its job.

There weren’t many tackles to go around because Rutgers did not run very many plays. The safeties did much of the work, with Jaquan Brisker playing one of the best games of his career with the Lions. Brisker was around the ball all day and made several plays that will not show up in the stat sheet.