Pregame Predictor: Rutgers
I'm talking to you, Rutgers. We may be wounded, but WE ARE far from finished. In fact, we have only just begun to re-stake our claim amongst the elite. One game at a time, of course. Brick by brick. Right now, the Scarlet Knights are the only thing standing in our way. Welcome to the third week of Penn State football. This one is personal. Personal in a forced kind of way. Personal because of the way some of us were treated last September in New Brunswick, NJ. Personal because someone gave them the green light to start considering themselves on even par with us. Well, if it's a rivalry you want, then a rivalry you will have. For one game at least. Be forewarned. We come 107k strong and we come with pride! This Saturday night, we aim to bring the stripes. Welcome to the debut of the Penn State Stripe Out, folks. A border war under the lights!
Both teams enter the game with an identical 1-1 record and something to prove. Penn State, coming off its win over Buffalo, is looking to keep the ship upright and sailing in the right direction. The 27-14 win on Saturday was nice and showed plenty of promise, but at the end of the day it was only Buffalo. A team that had no right even staying close as long as they did. The emergence of true freshman Saquon Barkley was definitely a bright spot and one that Head Coach James Franklin will keep involved here on out. Look for Christian Hackenberg to continue making more throws on the run as well. He seemed much more comfortable when he was under center and rolled out. The availability of Andrew Nelson will be a huge question as far as the O-Line goes. If unable to play, look for Paris Palmer to get another shot at protecting Hack's blind side at left tackle. Paris continues to be a work of progress and it appears that he is headed towards another baptism under fire this week.
On defense Penn State stood out last week and should keep improving. The Wild Dogs up front made life hell for the Bulls all day long. Carl Nassib has emerged as a man among boys on the edge and should continue to be a threat. Jason Cabinda, Troy Reeder, and Von Walker served admirably at all three Linebacker slots filling in for injuries. For Brandon Bell, who missed last week’s game at OLB, it looks like a return is eminent as is that of Grant Haley, making his first appearance of the year at cornerback. Much like the offense, youth and inexperience littered the field last week. Every snap counts for this team right now moving forward, but the D is clearly ahead of the offense once again. Eventually, the two may get close in terms of on-field production. When it does, look out.
As for Rutgers…poor old Rutgers. Simply put, they enter this game in a state of disarray. Seven players have either been suspended or dismissed due to various criminal charges, including all-Big Ten receiver, Leonte Carroo. Just yesterday, Head Coach Kyle Flood (he of the now-infamous TTFP words last year, rather than bring himself to say "Penn State") was put on a three-game suspension. Many in the Rutgers community are now calling for his complete termination over the use of private e-mails to contact a professor over a players failing grade. To make matters even worse, RU's leading pass rusher Darius Hamilton is not expected to make the trip due to a lingering injury.
Longtime assistant, (coincidentally the one who replaced Penn State DC Bob Shoop as head coach at Columbia), Norries Wilson, will replace Flood on the sideline. Despite all those roster losses, the Scarlet Knights still come to Happy Valley with an array of weapons. Coming off their 37-34 loss at home to Washington State, QB Chris Laviano has an above average run game to rely on, led by last year’s leader Paul James. Junior WR, Janarion Grant, is one that Penn State cannot afford to let of their sight. He led them with 324 all-purpose yards last week including a 55 yard punt return and a 100 yard kickoff return, both in the 4th quarter. Defensively, DE Kemoko Turay will try and fill the shoes of Hamilton. A strong pass rush and keeping Hack on his back is crucial to stopping a Penn State offense that has the weapons but just hasn't been consistent so far.
How Rutgers reacts to all the off-field issues is anyone’s guess at this point. Personally, I suspect they will take the “us-against-the-world” mentality and come out swinging. It is imperative that the Nittany Lions take those swings in stride and keep working towards the ultimate goal of balance on offense and keeping them at bay when they have the ball. Preventing Grant from any long returns is key, even though Penn State has a couple of return weapons of their own in DeAndre Thompkins and Nick Scott to contend with. In the end, I predict the first ever Stripe Out crowd and atmosphere to be too much for That Team From New Jersey (TTFNJ). Penn State slays the Knights 31-13.