While the game might not be anything spectacular for the Scarlet Knights, its one that should wake up a fanbase that has been passed out since the beginning of October.
The last time Rutgers faced off against the Nittany Lions, the Scarlet Knights actually had the lead after the first quarter before ultimately dropping the game in Happy Valley 35-6. With the 2018 season basically dead, this weekend is Rutgers’ last chance to give its fans a memory to keep them warm through the winter.
As nice as that would be, its not looking likely. Saturday’s game marks the first time hosting consecutive top 25 opponents since 2007, when Rutgers faced No. 2 USF and No. 6 West Virginia. Penn State enters the weekend at No. 16 nationally.
2018 has been a bit of a down year for the Nittany Lions, who dropped games against Ohio State, Michigan State and at Michigan, which the Wolverines won 42-7, the exact same score Michigan beat Rutgers by last weekend.
Down year or not, Penn State has the talent to make this one ugly for the Scarlet Knights. The Nittany Lions have a Heisman Trophy candidate under center with Trace McSorley, who is throwing 146-for-296 with 13 touchdowns and five interceptions. McSorley’s most valuable receiver has been KJ Hamler, who has 552 yards on the year with 5 touchdowns.
While James Franklin’s squad might be missing the presence of Saquon Barkley, they have managed thanks to Miles Sanders’ 1007 yards. Penn State’s next best rusher? McSorley, who has more yards (620) than all of Rutgers’ running backs (Raheem Blackshear comes the closest with 478 rushing yards).
Penn State has a dynamic offense, which is hard for almost any defense to handle, let alone the anemic defense Rutgers’ has shown this season. If the Scarlet Knights want to have any chance to keep this game competitive, they’re going to need Saquan Hampton to have another game like he did last Saturday. Hampton tallied 11 tackles against Michigan and had a hand in almost every big stop Rutgers had last weekend.
Rutgers’ had a strong defensive first half last weekend, holding Michigan to a touchdown in the first quarter and 21 in the first half. The defense that showed up in the first half, especially in that first quarter, looked closer to the defense the media was expecting to see all season long. There were some big stops on third and fourth down, including a fourth-and-1 stop on Rutgers’ 18 yard line.
Not only did Hampton have a good game, Trevor Morris came up big with 10 tackles himself and Deonte Roberts continues to be the Scarlet Knight’s best tackler with 91 tackles in the year, including six on Saturday.
If Rutgers wants to keep this game close, it needs to see more of the defense that showed up in the first half against one of the best offense in the country last weekend.
Offensively, the pass game continues to be nonexistent, while true freshman Isiah Pacheco had another standout game. Pacheco had an 80-yard run in the first quarter to tie the game, and a few more electrifying punt returns that were brought back for holding. In the chances that Pacheco has been given this season, he has shown that he has the talent to make Rutgers relevant again, and showed off just how valuable he is last week.
Rutgers continues to shoot itself in the foot when it comes to time of possession. The offense simply does not hang on the ball long enough for the defense to get a breather. It’s hard for the defense to continue to make big stops when they are on the field for 11:05 in the first quarter, and 29:38 through three quarters.
Artur Sitkowski only threw one interception in the game, and it came late in the fourth quarter. Raheem Blackshear had 57 yards of total offense, while quarterback Gio Rescigno added 19 yards on a trick play to be the Scarlet Knights’ leading receiver.
While the Scarlet Knights need to establish a passing game this weekend, Penn State allows an average of 200 receiving yards per game. Micah Parsons has had a solid freshman year for the blue and white with 57 tackles on the year. Yetur Gross-Matos will look to take advantage of Tariq Cole’s down year as he enters the game with eight sacks. Sitkowski and his 16 interceptions have little room to make an error, as both Nick Scott and Amani Oruwariye have three picks on the season.
Overall, the Scarlet Knights should be excited for this game, but unless Rutgers can hold onto that momentum, something they have not been able to do at all this season, the Scarlet Knights will likely close High Point.com Stadium’s doors without a Big Ten win.
Prediction: Penn State 38, Rutgers 10
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