Penn State plays host to Rutgers in a game that kicks at 8 p.m. (BTN) in Beaver Stadium Saturday. To get the latest on RU and all the crazy stuff going on with the program, we hit Scarlet Report publisher Sam Hellman with five pressing questions.
1. What the heck is going on there?
SH: It’s a combination of bad luck and trouble. The e-mail and suspension situation is ugly enough, but the series of arrests create not only a bad image for the program but major depth concerns after six dismissals and one indefinite suspension. To summarize for those who did not closely follow the story, there are three different parts to this. First, the alleged home invasion and robbery incidents in which two current and two former players have been charged. Second, assault charges for three other players who allegedly were involved when a man’s jaw was broken in an incident. Third is the Leonte Carroo situation. Police charged the receiver with simple assault under domestic violence after Saturday’s loss to Washington State. Carroo is suspended indefinitely but plead not guilty to the charges.
2. Is Kyle Flood’s job in danger?
SH: At this point, no. With a punishment as severe as a three-game suspension and the details revealed from the investigation, it’s clear that termination was an option. I look at the penalty laid down by president Robert Barchi as the end to the e-mail situation. When Flood returns from suspension, he will again be judged based on his performance, wins and losses, and university image. The details of the investigation are ugly and paint Flood in a poor light, but if he were going to be fired, it would have happened already.
3. How much different is this Rutgers team after all of the player losses?
SH: Rutgers has the same team identity but the personnel changes represent significant losses. Instead of the secondary Rutgers had in spring/summer camp, it is now without its starting free safety (Delon Stephenson), starting cornerback (Dre Boggs), a would-be starter (Nadir Barnwell) and another key cornerback (Ruhann Peele). The guys now available are good football players, but don't have nearly enough experience. There is no way to make up for the work they missed in training camp while others took reps with the ones. They'll all be good football players for Rutgers, but to ask that much of so many freshmen in game three is a challenge.
Offensively, Carroo's loss is significant. He's arguably the best receiver in school history and his backup has 10 catches to his name through three years in the program. The thing to keep in mind is that Flood is not a play-caller, so the only major change with his suspension comes in clock management.
4. Do the Scarlet Knights rally around each other and play well at Penn State after the latest bad news, or will things go the other way?
SH: Rutgers won't lay an egg. There is too much emotion in this one, even before the off-the-field transgressions put Flood under fire. Last year’s blown game against Penn State was the most painful loss of the year for both the players and their fan base. Rutgers would have been an underdog even if none of the off-the-field distractions took place. Here’s the thing: Rutgers matches up pretty well with Penn State when it comes to strengths vs. weaknesses. Rutgers showed last season what it’ defense can do to Christian Hackenberg under the Penn State offensive scheme, until the final drive where it all fell apart. Rutgers should be able to take advantage of PSU’s line struggles with its pass rush and should be successful yet again on the ground. The problem comes in the secondary (don't expect any coverage sacks for Rutgers this year) and at quarterback. Chris Laviano is a game manager, and can be a very good one, but there’s no way to prepare him for what he faces at Penn State. Some mop-up time last season and a home start against a questionable Washington State team don’t compare to Happy Valley.
5. Why has Janarion Grant been destroying opponents in the return game?
SH: Two reasons. First, Washington State was crazy enough to kick the ball to him consistently. Second, Grant really is that good. His first career touch in college was a 100-yard touchdown at Fresno State. Now Grant has two years of college experience to go along with it. He finally has an understanding of the offense and the hands to supplement what was already an impressive background as a return man. Grant once scored seven ways in the same game in high school, and Rutgers will use him all over the place to help replace what is lost in Carroo. If I'm James Franklin, I don’t kick anywhere near him. Make the Rutgers offense beat you.