Behind Enemy Lions: Five Penn State Questions Before Kickoff

As Rutgers fans prepare for kickoff and the start of Big Ten play this season, Scarlet Report speaks with Fight on State's Mark Brennan for five key questions about Penn State and coach James Franklin.

Scarlet Report: With all of the changes on Penn State’s offensive line, would you consider Christian Hackenberg’s protection better or worse Saturday than it was when he played Rutgers last season? Why?

MB: That really depends on whether or not tackle Andrew Nelson plays. PSU’s best O-lineman injured his left knee vs. Buffalo, missing the second half. Earlier this week, James Franklin said he is “hopeful” Nelson will be back for RU, but after seeing the injury I’d be surprised if it happens. Juco transfer LT Paris Palmer struggled in the opener vs. Temple, so much so that the staff shuffled the line and moved Nelson over from RT to replace him. Palmer looked much better when he was forced into action vs Buffalo. But it was Buffalo. Bottom line, if Nelson is good to go, the line should be better that it was in the 2014 matchup. If not, my guess is it’ll be worse, because either Palmer or one of the interior guys will have to play LT.

Scarlet Report: Rutgers is going to have to improve on that 2-23 record against Penn State before this can be called a rivalry, but is there any extra juice on campus with the regional proximity here and the amount of kids Rutgers went after on the roster?

MB: There’s gonna be a lot of “juice” flowing during tailgates all day, and I’m just hoping it doesn’t cause Penn State fans to recall some of the pretty nasty things that were done and said before last year’s meeting at Rutgers and respond in kind. Otherwise, I don’t think fans here view this as any sort of significant rivalry. Player-wise, I do think all of the Jersey kids on the PSU roster see this as something special.

Scarlet Report: What have you seen from Penn State on special teams so far? Do you think Penn State kicks to Janarion Grant, who has three return touchdowns already this season?

MB: Penn State’s coverage units have been pretty good, but they have not yet faced anyone like Grant. The weather is supposed to be nice, so I’d imagine Joey “Big Toe” Julius will try to power the ball through the end zone on kickoffs. Expect struggling punter Daniel Pasquariello to go rugby style (which he can do) to try give the coverage guys more time to get down the field. That’s if he is not replaced by New Jersey native Chris Gulla.

Scarlet Report What is the feeling of the fan base about James Franklin after the Temple loss? Aberration or sign for concern?

MB: Franklin is an amazing recruiter and wins every press conference. But a lot of fans still wonder about his abilities as a game-day coach. That’s one of the things that makes this an important game. After the offense struggled (again) under coordinator John Donovan in the opener, Franklin let it be known that he was taking a much more active role on that side of the ball, and appeared to be more involved in the play calling vs. Buffalo. But again, it was Buffalo. If the offense lays another egg Saturday, the questions will only intensify.

Scaret Report: From your expert opinion, what went wrong against Temple and how close is Franklin to correcting it after the win over Buffalo?

MB: It doesn’t take an expert to figure out what went wrong vs. Temple. A series of key injuries really impacted the usually strong PSU defense, so it gets a pass here. But the offense — as was so often the case last season — failed to adjust during the course of a game. This time Temple’s unique blitzes (and fake blitzes) confused the Lions and they had no answers, allowing an unthinkable 10 sacks. PSU did a better job of moving the pocket, protecting the QB and running the ball vs. Buffalo, and the result was no sacks. But again … all together now … it was Buffalo.


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