Welcome to the FOS Game Week Blitz for Penn State's home opener against Rutgers.
The Blitz was one of the most popular features at the old PSU Playbook, the grass-roots site which was a big part of the entities that united to create FightOnState.com back in 2004. Though the name of the site changed, we kept right on blitzing.
The idea behind The Blitz? Former Playbook scribes (and current FOS staffers) Mark Harrington and Nirav Dalal provide a fans' eye breakdown of the upcoming game. They discuss and debate pertinent issues, matchups and injuries, and
of course provide their predictions (now in video, too).
Like a pair of (undersized and very slow) outside linebackers, they pin back their ears and get after it. Sometimes they come through with big hits, other times they miss. But they always enjoy themselves.
MH: Well, Buffalo was a victory with some progress. Penn State now sets its sight on conference play with a prime-time clash against Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights have had an array of off-field issues that have limited their depth on both sides of the ball, so we’ll see how PSU stacks up.
ND: The Lions showed some improvement on the offensive line and in play-calling while pulling out a win over Buffalo. But the loss of Andrew Nelson will certainly hurt despite the progression of Paris Palmer from game one to game two. The Big Ten wants this to be a key eastern rivalry but Rutgers has to show that it can win.
Who: Rutgers vs. Penn State
When: September 19, 8:00 pm ET
Where: Beaver Stadium in University Park, Pa.
Series: Penn State leads 39-4-1
Line: Penn State favored by 10 points
MH: Let’s take a closer look at where the Nittany Lions stand heading into their home clash with Rutgers.
LINE DANCING: The good news is that the Nittany Lion offensive line eliminated the sacks this past week against Buffalo. But losing tackle Andrew Nelson was a major blow to the unit. How good is the front five now? The jury’s out. Paris Palmer showed nice improvement, but we’re not convinced he’ll be the starter. Expect more pressure from Rutgers’ defensive line.
MAKE THE CALL: One of the main concerns with the PSU offense is the play-calling, which has largely not consistently leveraged the speed and weapons the Lions have across the air attack. It was improved against Buffalo, but the staff’s tendency to go conservative has snuffed out key drives and killed opportunities. I am not sure we’ll see that much more risk-taking this week, though.
STORM FRONT: The defensive front, led by DE Carl Nassib and DT Austin Johnson, was a force in the Buffalo victory, creating pressure and opportunities against the Bulls. It’ll be instrumental in this RU game, as well, and will have to contain Rutgers’ RB Josh Hicks and pressure QB Chris Laviano. With WR Leonte Carroo suspended, that removes a major weapon, but the PSU defensive line can’t rest easy despite this.
GROUND ASSAULT: What’s exciting for Penn State’s offense is the emergence of rookie running back Saquon Barkley. He looked legit against Buffalo, running around, through and over Bull defenders on the way to 115 yards and a score. The question is if the coaches give him the nod and if he can pick up where he left off.
KICK START: Punter Danny Pasquariello averaged 38.5 yards per kick last week. Sure, one was a 55-yard boot, but the other two were 33 and 27 yards, with none were downed inside the 20. In a game like this, special teams will be a major advantage to whoever can get it together.
ND: In this section, we will review/preview Rutgers.
WHEN IT RAINS: To say that the last few weeks have been tumultuous is an understatement. Kyle Flood had to dismiss or indefinitely suspend seven players ranging from a whole slew of very troubling events. In addition, the NCAA is looking into some contact with recruits outside of the prescribed windows. And then Flood himself was suspended for improperly contacting a professor on behalf of a player.
HICK UP: Paul James is the fifth year senior who is the starter at TB. but that is only a tip of the cap to the upperclassman. In reality, Josh Hicks is the real threat at TB. Hicks has seen an increasing number of carriers as he continues to have real success running. Hicks has a good combination of speed and size. but he does have a tendency to want to bounce the run to the outside. The key will be for the Lions to keep him in the middle where he is less dangerous.
NEW KNIGHT: Chris Laviano takes over as the QB for Rutgers this year. He is a sophomore who is struggling a bit in the spotlight. He’s a kid who just isn’t making enough big plays to be a real threat throwing the ball. Losing Leonte Carroo will really hurt him, but it is pretty clear that he and TE Matt Flanagan are building some chemistry.
NOT FOR GRANTED: Junior Janarion Grant got everyone’s attention last week. Not only did he have a nice day catching passes and running a jet sweep, but he scored on both a punt return and a kickoff return. Though Penn State has been pretty good in coverage this year, Grant is going to be a real test. He is a difference-maker with some serious jets.
LONGA TALENT: Steve Longa returns as the workhorse for this defense. He racked up 14 tackles against Washington State, is a Lombardi Watch List candidate and is a likely All-Big Ten linebacker. This kid does a little bit of everything and has pretty good range, as well. The ability of the offensive line to get to him will be critical.
KEYS TO THE GAME
MH: Get a balanced attack together. With the emergence of Barkley and the crop of receiving targets, this should not be that much of a stretch for the Lions. If the offensive line can continue with its protection and PSU can eliminate the dropped passes, it should be able to throw out a diverse offense scheme and get some drives together.
ND: Protect the QB. It’s that simple. Rutgers has been decimated in its secondary with all of the off-the-field issues, so I expect the Knights to blitz Christian Hackenberg on every single down in the hopes to get the ball out of his hands. The more time Hackenberg has, the more likely it is he’ll find a receiver running free (just like Washington State found last week_.
MH: While Penn State has issues, Rutgers' are worse. The loss of a slew of players (not to mention the head coach) has impacted the Knights on both sides of the ball. Toss in the home-field advantage, and this should be one Penn State can nab if it can take care of the ball.
Penn State 20, Rutgers 13
ND: This is a different game with Carroo. His loss really limits what the Scarlet Knights can do in the passing game. I think the PSU offensive line will struggle against a higher quality opponent. The punters are gonna need an ice bath after this one.
Penn State 17, Rutgers 14
Until next time,
Fight On State!