Game Preview: Penn State at Rutgers

PISCATAWAY, N.J. – It’s time to play the game. The talking is done, and both teams are ready to get in their final meetings and head over to a memorable night at High Point Solutions Stadium. Can the Scarlet Knights pull off the upset?

Penn State at Rutgers

Time:8 p.m., High Point Solutions Stadium, Piscataway, N.J.

TV/Radio: Big Ten Network, 660/101.9 WFAN, 710-WOR, 1450-AM, 97.5 FM

Series: Penn State leads 22-2

Last meeting: Sept. 23, 1995, Penn State won 59-34

Coaches: Rutgers – Kyle Flood (3rd season, 17-11); Penn State – James Franklin (Fourth Season, 26-15, First at Penn State, 2-0)

Storyline Central

  • Who Wants it More? -- This game means everything to Rutgers fans, and is a budding rivalry in the eyes of the players (whether they admit it or not). Penn State, which is used to Big Ten football, has plenty of motivation of its own after the lifting of NCAA sanctions. The Nittany Lions are now 2-0 and eligible for a bowl game, which adds more fuel to the visiting team looking to ruin the Scarlet Knights' big day.

  • Open the Floodgates -- Flood runs through the tunnel Saturday with another two years on his contract, and a big boost of confidence from athletic director Julie Hermann. The two-year extension makes Flood under contract through 2018, and gives him a strong message to deliver to the recruits in attendance Saturday night. With more than a dozen commits and some of the top 2016 targets set to attend, Flood and his staff have a good pitch to deliver.

  • Firepower -- Gary Nova and Christian Hackenberg are two of the biggest statistical performers at quarterback through two weeks. Nova leads the Big Ten in passer rating with six touchdowns, 563 yards and just one interception. Hackenberg, with less help from the running game, leads the conference with 773 passing yards. Look for Saturday to be an arm vs. arm battle between the two where the fewest mistakes could win it for that team. Nova has just one turnover this season, but ball security lost him his job last season. Hackenberg has as many interceptions as touchdowns throw through two games – four apiece.

Matchup to Watch

Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg vs. Rutgers defensive coordinator Joe Rossi

Hackenberg has big passing numbers, but struggled with turnovers in games against Akron and UCF to start the season. The Rutgers defensive secondary … well … has just struggled in games against Howard and Washington State to start the season. Rutgers defensive coordinator Joe Rossi will have to get creative in both getting pressure on PSU’s start quarterback and preventing his young secondary from being exposed. Rutgers has arguable its best front-four pass rush under Flood, and is known for disguising blitzes well. The fewer throwing opportunities Hackenberg has, the more likely Rutgers pulls off the upset.

Scarlet Knights Win If…

They hit the big play -- Every Rutgers upset includes a few memorable “big plays” on special teams or offensively. Whether it is the 64-yard bomb to a young Kenny Britt against Louisville in 2006 or the fake field goal touchdown to Kevin Brock over No. 2 USF the following year, Rutgers needs to do it against Penn State. The Scarlet Knights lead the nation in blocked kicks over the last five years. They got two last week. Getting it done tomorrow on special teams could be the X-factor.

Nittany Lions Win If …

The run defense continues its success -- Penn State allows just 1.7 yards per rushing attempt, and Rutgers running back Paul James is on fire as the nation’s leading touchdown scorer through two weeks. Something has to give. If Penn State and it’s bulky defensive line shut down James and his backups, Rutgers will have a tough time putting up points through the air alone.


Impact Player

QB Gary Nova — If there ever was a game where Nova needed to show he can transcend to the next level, this is it. Nova has two solid games so far and an offensive coordinator that has a history of getting the most out of his quarterbacks. The Penn State secondary is good enough to make Nova regret any bad decision with the football. Nova has to command the huddle, remain in control and limit mistakes.

Something to Prove

S Lorenzo Waters — The missed tackles and bad angles cannot continue for the senior captain, who has been inconsistent to start the season. Waters is a leader of the young defensive secondary, and Rossi needs him to step up his game this week. Waters and the entire defensive secondary face a new challenge in Hackenberg. Do not let missed tackles and yards after the catch make it easier on the already potent Penn State offense.

Looking to Build

WR John Tsimis — Don’t look now but the shifty, sure-handed receiver from Bergen Catholic has touchdowns in consecutive games. When players like Ruhann Peele, Andrew Turzilli, Carlton Agudosi and Andre Patton battled injuries in training camp, Tsimis quietly soaked up their reps and showed improvement. He started alongside Leonte Carroo and Janarion Grant last week, and will get the chance to make plays with PSU expected to key on Carroo and tight end Tyler Kroft in the passing game.

Freshman to Watch

DE Kemoko Turay — Turay is no longer a secret weapon. He is the team’s sack leader, and a dispruptive athlete when he goes the right way. Penn State is well aware of the challenge red-shirt freshman Turay presents but will it matter? Turay is a unique athlete that the PSU offensive line will have to stop in order to convert third downs.

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