Rutgers fans, we’re just one win away from becoming bowl eligible for the first time since 2014. After a very well played 38-3 win over Indiana, Rutgers now sits at 5-5 with two games remaining in the season. Next week, Rutgers will travel to Happy Valley to take on the 6-4 Penn State Nittany Lions. Penn State has a record of 1-4 over their last 5 games, including a loss to Illinois, a team Rutgers beat a few weeks ago. Penn State is a good team, so Rutgers will likely not walk all over the Nittany Lions on Saturday. However, a Scarlet Knights bowl clinching win is not entirely improbable.
Last week, the Knights defense managed to get six takeaways, four fumbles and two interceptions, en route to a dominant Rutgers victory. The game started with Indiana freshman quarterback Donaven McCulley botching the opening snap, which was picked up by Rutgers. The Knights took advantage of this Indiana turnover as Isaih Pacheco opened the scoring with an 8 yard touchdown run just a minute and 13 seconds into the game. Pacheco found the endzone once again late in the first quarter, this time for 3 yards.
The second quarter was much quieter, with both teams only adding a field goal. The score heading into halftime was 17-3. However, the second half was much more lopsided in Rutgers’ favor. The first drive of the half resulted in an Adam Korsak punt that Indiana muffed and Rutgers recovered, giving the Knights the ball on the 10 yard line. Just one play later, Aaron Young found the endzone on a 10 yard run bringing the score to 24-3.
The highlight of the day came at the end of the third quarter when Rutgers reached into their bag of tricks. Offensive tackle Raiqwon O’Neal dropped into the backfield to catch a lateral from Noah Vedral before diving into the endzone for a 7 yard big man touchdown. Noah Vedral added a rushing touchdown on the next Rutgers drive for the final score of the game.
Rutgers scored all 5 touchdowns against Indiana on the ground, a very promising statistic for a team that has struggled to develop a consistent rushing attack this season. We’ve seen Noah Vedral struggle to throw the ball, so it should be exciting for Rutgers fans to see what the offense is capable of doing on the ground. It is important for the Knights to continue to run the ball well against Penn State.
The Nittany Lions have begun a downward spiral after starting their season 5-0. Many are saying Coach James Franklin has one foot out the door already as he is eyeing the USC head coaching vacancy. Their last five games include losses to Iowa, Illinois, Ohio State, and Michigan. Their lone win came against Maryland, which was tied late into the fourth quarter before Penn State started to run away with it.
The way the Knights played last week gives Rutgers fans some hope against Penn State, a team they have lost to in 14 straight meetings dating back to 1989. However, Knights fans felt similar optimism heading into the Ohio State game, as they were coming off a strong performance against Michigan the week prior. It is fair to say that their optimism is far more guarded this time around.
Penn State has excelled in limiting opponents’ scoring, allowing just 17.1 points per game, 4th best in the Big Ten. Rutgers’ defense will have to perform similar to how they did against Indiana in order to have a chance. Turnovers will be a major factor in this game, and whichever team takes better care of the ball will likely come out on top.
Penn State has much more to lose in this game than Rutgers does. While Penn State has clinched bowl eligibility and Rutgers has not, Penn State’s last 5 games have said much more about the direction their program is headed than any bowl game ever could. A loss to Rutgers would all but confirm the end of James Franklin’s tenure at Penn State. Since Rutgers joined the Big Ten in 2014, Penn State has habitually been able to count on their matchup to be a victory. If Rutgers is able to come out on top on Saturday, Penn State’s days of Big Ten dominance should be declared over.
I see this game being low scoring, likely decided by one possession. With the way Penn State is playing, and the type of game Rutgers just played, Rutgers will be confident. As long as the Rutgers offense can run the ball efficiently, and the Rutgers defense doesn’t give up big plays, Rutgers will win this game, and officially end the James Franklin era at Penn State. The final score will be 23-17, as Noah Vedral and Isaih Pacheco are each able to find the endzone on the ground. Valentino Ambrosio will also have a good day as he adds three field goals.
Tune into Big Ten Network at noon on Saturday 11/20 to watch the Rutgers Scarlet Knights take on the Penn State Nittany Lions at Beaver Stadium in State College, PA.