KICKING OFF MH: I know the chants “We Are Back,” have Ben Strong, but in my view Penn State football never went anywhere. Going 17-9 during the initial sanction period, the Lions have put up better records with the penalties than Michigan, Texas and Florida and have the same winning percentage as USC. Indeed though, it was a great day for PSU…seeing the unjustified NCAA penalties dismissed. Now onto Rutgers. ND: It has been a truly monumental week for the Lions and the entire Penn State community. However, the Big Ten Opener against Rutgers is being setup as the biggest game in Rutgers’ recent history. Coach Franklin has dominated the Garden State in recruiting and now Rutgers wants to push the Lions back.
DIRTY DETAILS Who: Penn State vs. Rutgers When: Saturday, September 13th at 8:00 pm ET, 5:00 pm PT Where: High Point Solutions Stadium in Piscataway, NJ Series: Penn State leads 22-2 TV: Big Ten Network Line: PSU favored by 3.5
PSU PLAYBOOK MH: Let’s talk about some aspects to focus on with the Nittany Lions against Rutgers: HOLD ON: A big concern for the Nittany Lions has been related to turnovers – six in two games to be precise. Although PSU overcame the deficit to get to 2-0, the Lions need to protect the ball. This means avoiding costly miscues, like the mis-snap to Belton and particularly Christian Hackenberg forcing balls into tight windows. As the Lions get into Big Ten play they cannot afford to give up opportunities that put pressure on the defense. STORM FRONT: PSU’s defensive front has been formidable and they will have to be once again as RU likes to run junior running back Paul James who is 6-foot, 210 pounds. He’s shown a propensity to cut well in traffic, which will require Mike Hull and the linebackers to step up and plug up the lateral lanes. I expect Anthony Zettel to lead the charge again in getting a push and pressure on the pocket to disrupt senior QB Gary Nova. RUNNING ON EMPTY: Although the PSU staff put in a heavier dose of the run late against Akron, the ground game still struggled late week. The Lions will gave to get it going on some level to create a multidimensional attack and keep the focus off Hackenberg. Aside from this it will help settle the mindset of the sophomore passer who seems to think he has to put the team on his back at times. AIR IT OUT: With that said, Rutgers defense had issues with Howard last week, and the Bison actually rolled up more yards than the Knights on offense. The secondary for RU has shown it has some issues in coverage which could be an opportunity for the PSU passing attack. However, I expect we’ll see some adjustments; Flood has already shifted one CB to RB in Justin Godwin, so I am not sure we won’t see some other shifts to shore of their secondary. SPECIAL EDITION: Penn State’s special teams overall have seen a boost so far this season, particularly with the kicking games. Chris Gulla had five punts for 244 yards, against Akron, a 48.0 YPP which was a PSU freshman PSU record. This could be a key component in those critical field position battles we always talk about. Also, Sam Ficken will be key on kickoffs – getting some touchbacks to give RU long fields to work with could be a big factor for the defense to create opportunities.
KNIGHT CLASSND: In this section, I will review this week’s opponent, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. SUPER NOVA: QB Gary Nova has reclaimed the QB spot after having been benched at the end of last year. He has been efficient and productive this season. Nova does a good job delivering the football between the hashes but struggles a bit with the long throws to the sidelines. His accuracy takes a hit when he has pressure in his face. As a result, Offensive Coordinator Ralph Friedgen has been using bootlegs to help Nova get away from pressure and to be able to get the ball to the perimeter well. PEOPLES CHOICE: Rutgers has an excellent running attack. Paul James and Desmon Peoples have torched both Washington State and Howard. James showed his abilities by running over Washington State but turned around and caught 2 balls for 100 yards resulting in two TDs against Howard. James is a strong runner that is difficult to tackle because he only shows his shoulder pads and knees. He has breakaway speed and power. Peoples, like James, has great running and catching skills. Rutgers has one of the better backfields in the conference this year. WR CARROO: Leontee Carroo leads the WR crew. He has big play ability and is the safety blanket for Gary Nova. John Tsmis is a good, young WR that has also made some excellent plays this year. Between Carroo and Tsmis, the Scarlet Knights have a talented WR unit when you add in Kansas transfer, Andrew Turzili. BEGIN WITH THE END: Defensive End David Milewski has been on a tear this year. Though he can play all four defensive line positions, he has been starting at DE and has 3 TFLs, 1 sack and a forced fumble. The 5th year senior captain is tall and athletic. Rutgers likes to run lots of stunts on their defensive line and the athleticism of Milewski allows them to do this. LONGA ON TALENT: Rutgers’ best defensive player is OLB Steve Longa. He is excellent against the run but he is also very good in pass coverage. He will certainly be paired up against Penn State’s TE. If the PSU offensive lineman can’t get to Longa, he will continually stop the PSU RB at or behind the line of scrimmage. RETURN POLICY: Janarion Grant made a real name for himself last year showcasing a great talent returning kicks and, to a lesser degree, returning punts. Though he hasn’t quite his stride this year, he is a dangerous return guy and considering Penn State’s struggles in kick/punt coverage, Grant could help Rutgers gain some momentum and help the offense work with a shorter field.
KEYS TO THE GAME MH: Protecting the rock will be essential in this game. The Lions will have to buckle down and take calculated risks that don’t end up in lost balls. Turnovers will not only give RU a boost, but also provide key opportunities to pick up momentum and points. ND: Though the Rutgers’ secondary is suspect and will allow Hackenberg to throw the ball at will, the Lions have to be able to run the ball to control the clock and to convert third and shorts. Coach Franklin knows that they have to run the ball to survive the Big Ten schedule. Well, the Big Ten schedule starts this week.
PREDICTIONS MH: This will an emotional atmosphere which will have Rutgers amped to prove they belong in the Big Ten. If PSU protects the ball and moves it around to their playmakers I expect they should pull out a victory. Penn State 27, Rutgers 16 ND: Emotions will be running high in this game and the 8pm kick at High Point Stadium will help Rutgers get out of the gate. But, Hackenberg picking apart the secondary and a couple of late Ficken FGs will ice it for the Lions. Penn State 34, Rutgers 24 Until next time, Fight On State!