After two grueling losses, Penn State heads back to Happy Valley for their vs. Rutgers on Saturday afternoon. There may be no bigger overall improvement in the Big Ten than the Scarlet Knights (yes, I am well aware of Michigan State). Rutgers is 4-5 and 3-3 in the Big Ten. Before the season, that seemed like the absolute ceiling. Chris Ash has his team playing well, and though Penn State is a heavy favorite, the Rutgers defensive line has made the biggest strides. The Lions will look to get some semblance of a running game going, but defensive end Kemoko Turay is one player that must be accounted for if they want to impose their will.
With wide receiver Janarion Grant's injury status very much up in the air, the key player for Rutgers becomes less obvious. If there is something that has given Penn State trouble thus far, it's solid defensive line play. In their four wins, Rutgers has not allowed anyone to rush for over 100 yards. That brings us to "not sure where he'd fit in this loaded backfield" Saquon Barkley. Though they have improved, the Knights defense will face the former Rutgers verbal commit, and that's where Turay comes in.
As a junior last year, Turay's stats did not stand out as he finished the season with only three tackles in eight games. To his credit, two of those were for losses. As a freshman, he had 24 tackles, 8 of which were for a loss, and was a FWAA Freshman All-American. As a sophomore he put up nine tackles, three for a loss.
In 2017, Turay has played in all nine games and has been much more active with 41 tackles. 3.5 of those tackles were for a loss, with 1.5 sacks.
Penn State lost the turnover battle last week, and if they find themselves in that predicament again this week, there could be some extra cold seats at Beaver Stadium. Turay brings a different dynamic to the game as an end who can factor into Trace McSorley's decision making in the run-pass option.
Not many people predicted more than two conference wins for the Knights heading into 2017, but Ash has done an admirable job flipping the script. They still have ways to go, but if there is ever a game that would change perception it's this one. Turay is only one of eleven players on the field, but Penn State better be cognizant of his whereabouts because he'e the type of player that can change the course of a game in an instant.