Penn State Opponent Preview: Scouting Rutgers

ScarletReport.com publisher Sam Hellman gives the lowdown on the Nittany Lions’ Week 3 opponent and new Big Ten member.

Rutgers makes its Big Ten debut by playing host to longtime Eastern foe Penn State at High Point Solutions Stadium Saturday night.

To get the lowdown on the Scarlet Knights, we went behind enemy lines with five questions for Sam Hellman, the publisher of ScarletReport.com from the Scout.com network.

1. Why has Rutgers been so successful offensively this season?

SH: The obvious answer is Ralph Friedgen, but Rutgers has also played two bad defenses to start the year. Friedgen has shown that he “gets it” so far, and deserves to be the highest paid assistant coach in school history. Friedgen is slowly doing with Gary Nova what the last three offensive coordinators could not. Nova is studying more film, he's more accurate and he is slowly improving his decision-making. The running game has been strong, but we'll see how long that continues when Big Ten defenses get involved. The Penn State front seven is a clear upgrade from Howard or Washington State. Rutgers returns five starters to its offensive line, including two Pennsylvania guys -- Chris Muller and Taj Alexander. This is the best I've seen the Rutgers offense look since 2008, when Mike Teel (now a GA) had NFL receivers Kenny Britt and Tiquan Underwood as weapons.

2. Has the team's defense been as bad as the statistics indicate?

SH: Yes. Rutgers gave up 25 points to an FCS team that was shut out by Akron the week before. Rutgers had not surrendered a point to a MEAC school in four years until what it did against Howard last week. To be fair, Howard only had seven points when Rutgers started pulling its starters, but there are some serious defensive concerns for the Scarlet Knights when it comes to Saturday. Defensive coordinator Joe Rossi, who replaced the ineffective Dave Cohen in the offseason, was intentionally vanilla in week two. That won't be the case against Penn State. Rutgers has two main problems on defense -- inexperience in the secondary and tackling. Neither can be fixed in a week, so it is up to Rossi and a very talented front seven to make up for it.

Rutgers has two main problems on defense — inexperience in the secondary and tackling. Neither can be fixed in a week.

3. What are the keys to RU winning this game?

SH: Establish the run offensively, limit Nova's mistakes and tackle the ball carrier on first contact. Paul James leads the nation in touchdowns, and he's finally healthy. The more Rutgers controls time of possession, the better chance it has of pulling off the upset. James is playing the best football of his life right now. Nova has made mistakes in the passing game through two weeks, but they haven't been very costly. That's going to have to continue. Penn State is going to complete passes against Rutgers -- lots of them. Rutgers has to limit the damage by making clean tackles. Don't go for the big hit. Wrap up and make the play.

4. How big of a rivalry game is this in the eyes of Scarlet Knight fans?

SH: Huge -- bigger than huge. This is the most important game to Rutgers fans since Greg Schiano led the program's turnaround in the early 2000s. I've heard everything from “if we beat Penn State I can die happy” to “I'll buy season tickets for life if Flood pulls this off.” The average Rutgers fan dislikes Penn State with a passion and that dates back to the Doug Graber -- Joe Paterno/Mike McQueary incident at the Meadowlands 20 years ago. The early success of James Franklin, specifically in recruiting New Jersey, has Rutgers fans seeing this as the ultimate rivalry game. Add in the fact that Rutgers is an underdog and add in the fact that Rutgers has had a lot of things go wrong in the last year, and this fan base is beyond hungry for a win of which it can be proud.

5. What are some things Penn State fans should check out if they are visiting for the game this weekend?

SH: If you're a fan of “Man vs. Food,” then the Grease Trucks are worth a trip. If you want to see a heart attack on a bun (roll stuffed with chicken tenders, hamburger, mozzarella sticks, french fries, marinara sauce), this is your place. More sensible diners should take advantage of their time in New Jersey by getting a good slice of pizza on Easton Avenue or visiting the renowned “Stuff Yer Face”, where Iron Chef Mario Batali got his start.

As far as landmarks, you'll see plenty of cool stuff from just wandering around the tailgating areas. There is a statue outside of the stadium commemorating the first college football game ever played (Rutgers beat Princeton 6-4), although the actual site of that game is now a parking lot in New Brunswick. If you're staying a little outside of campus, the Edison Tower and Menlo Park (the home of Thomas Edison) is not too far. You could also make a 10-minute drive Friday night to go see Penn State commit Myles Hartsfield open up his senior season on the road at J.P. Stevens High School. And for the Harold and Kumar fans, White Castle is a lot easier to find than you think.


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