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Penn State vs. Rutgers: Game Preview

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Penn State will try to stop the bleeding against a motivated Rutgers squad looking to gain bowl eligibility.

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Penn State Matthew O’Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Penn State is looking to shift momentum following a 1-4 spiral, while Rutgers is seeking bowl eligibility.

Penn State (6-4, 3-4) vs. Rutgers (5-5, 2-5)

Kickoff: Noon, Beaver Stadium, State College, PA

The Betting Line: Penn State -17 (Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.)

TV: ABC - Cory Provus (play-by-play), Matt Millen (analyst), Elise Menaker (sideline)

Weather: A chilly and windy day with temperatures near freezing in the a.m. before warming up to the low-40s in the afternoon and little chance of precipitation.

COACHES:

James Franklin:

PENN STATE RECORD: 66-32, 8th Year

OVERALL RECORD: 89-47, 11th Year

VS. RUTGERS: 7-0

Greg Schiano:

RUTGERS RECORD: 76-78, 13th Year

OVERALL RECORD: Same

VS. PENN STATE: 0-1

FUN FACTS

RUTGERS OFFENSE VS. PENN STATE DEFENSE

While the Rutgers defense has allowed the team to be on the verge of bowl eligibility, the offense has a long ways to go. The Scarlet Knights are ranked 103rd or worse nationally in all major offensive categories, with the exception of rushing yards, where they come in at 82nd. Rutgers is averaging 15.3 points in Big Ten games, and just 11.5 points prior to the 38-3 explosion against Indiana on Saturday.

Quarterback Noah Vedral has performed well in certain areas, most notably posting a 60.5 completion rate and just five interceptions on the season. He hasn’t been terribly productive though, throwing just three touchdown passes in Big Ten play, and zero in the last three games. He is averaging 140.6 passing yards against the Big Ten, and has just one game with more than 200 yards passing (208 against Michigan State). He does well in picking up first downs with his legs, although he isn’t a lethal runner.

Wide receiver Bo Melton is by far the most productive receiver, leading the team by a wide margin in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns despite missing two games. Senior Shameen Jones is next in line, and recently had a big day against Michigan State with eight catches for 109 yards.

The Scarlet Knights rely heavily on running back Isaih Pacheco who has had 21 carries in two of the last three weeks (both wins). He leads the team with 554 rushing yards, although his average is 3.8 yards per carry. He is a capable receiver when called upon, although he rarely leaves the backfield. Vedral is the team’s second-leading rusher.

Penn State’s defense should match up very well with the Scarlet Knights. However, they may be shorthanded as several players have missed time with the flu - including many in the linebacker room. If this is the case, Rutgers may throw out some wrinkles to try to take advantage of inexperienced and/or individuals playing out of position.

PENN STATE OFFENSE VS. RUTGERS DEFENSE

Rutgers defense is the reason they stand at a surprising 5-5 after 10 games. They are not incredibly stingy, but have done enough to notch some victories with little help from the offense, and kept the team in the game against Michigan until an ill-fated turnover on their last possession.

Fifth-year senior linebacker Olakunle Fatukasi will be the one making Penn State fans scream at their TVs this week. He leads the team with 11 TFLs and 2.5 sacks, as well as forcing two fumbles. He seems assured to have at least one sack where he isn’t touched on the way to Sean Clifford. Safety Christian Izien lines up and makes plays all over the field. He has 8.5 TFLs on the season, and managed four interceptions and three fumble recoveries in the shortened 2020 season.

You know the story of the Penn State offense by this point - everything falls on Clifford’s shoulders without much threat of a consistent run game. He will need to find his rhythm on a cold and breezy afternoon that is more suited for an old-school smashmouth Big Ten game. Fortunately, he has the nation’s best wide receiver in Jahan Dotson, as well as several other standout passcatchers. Unfortunately, he plays behind a poor offensive line - which could be much worse after several starters have been away from practice with the flu this week.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Valentino Ambrosia is 11 of 15 on field goals this year, with two of those misses being on chip shots of 29 yards or less. He’s connected on 27 of 28 extra point attempts. Adam Korsak is the latest standout at punter on the Nittany Lions schedule. He’s averaging an eye-popping 46.3 yards per punt and has 17 attempts of more than 50 yards. Rutgers has not allowed a punt to be blocked this season.

PREDICTION

Rutgers-20, Penn State-16

There was a time not long ago when any reasonable person could chalk this up as an automatic victory with the starters on the sidelines for most of the second half. That has changed dramatically as of late, and there are now several reasons to be concerned about Rutgers leaving Beaver Stadium with a victory:

-The Scarlet Knights will be playing for bowl eligibility, a major milestone for a program that was at the rock bottom on the P5 programs not long ago (and before you bring up Kansas, please note they lost to the Jayhawks 54-14 in 2018).

-They can finish with a winning record in the regular season with victories against Penn State and Maryland.

-Football coaches aren’t lying when they say they take it week-to-week and all games are equally important. However, Schiano will really want this one, and that will trickle down to the players who seem to respect and buy into their head coach.

-Rutgers comes in with much more momentum, winning two of three and trouncing Indiana 38-3 on Saturday - by far their biggest margin of victory against a conference opponent since joining the Big Ten in 2014.

Rutgers certainly has the intangibles in their favor. However, there’s one factor that heavily benefits Penn State:

-they have far more talent at every position group.

It’s simple - Penn State needs to play somewhat close to their potential and they walk away with the victory. However, it’s hard to know what to expect from a team that has been on a downward trajectory, playing a noon game in front of what will likely be a sparse (for Beaver Stadium standards) and lethargic crowd. There’s also the pattern of the offense leaving points on the field, as well as uncertainty surrounding the lineup thanks to the flu outbreak, and it seems like the perfect recipe for Rutgers to spoil Senior Day.