Penn State wraps up the 2019 regular season campaign against a hapless Rutgers squad desperately wanting the season to end. A third ten-plus win season in four is in reach, as long as the buses don't break down on the way to Beaver Stadium.
|2019 Record||9-2 (6-2 in Big Ten)||2-9 (0-8 in Big Ten)|
|Head Coaches||James Franklin (78-38, 54-23 with Penn State)||Nunzio Campanile (Interim) (1-4)|
|spread||Penn State -41|
dysfunction in piscataway
Stop me if you have heard this before, but the Rutgers football program has come apart at the seams. Former head coach Chris Ash was fired after five games this year with the Scarlet Knights at 1-4, and Ash holding an 8-32 record in three-plus seasons in New Jersey. Nunzio Campanile has taken over on an interim basis, but Ash's departure and the lingering uncertainty surrounding the program led to starting quarterback Artur Sitkowski and running back Raheem Blackshear to sit out and preserve a redshirt year in advance of a possible transfer. The Knights were struggling with the two veterans, but losing them for the year certainly didn't do Campanile and favors.
Off of the field, a presumed reunion with former head coach Greg Schiano that appeared all but certain fell apart earlier this week. His withdrawal from consideration has sent the search for a new leader back several steps, although there is renewed home that talks can be revived in the fallout.
On the field, things have been a mess, with the Knights being outscored 37.5 to 13.9, both of which are among the worst in FBS. In the Big Ten, the Knights have put up just 45 total points in eight games, while allowing 328. Just about any way you slice it, Penn State has a clear advantage in every phase of the game.
A chance to breathe
With all of that going against the visitors, this should be a welcome reprieve for the Nittany Lions. Penn State is coming off of a stretch that saw them go to Iowa, host Michigan, visit Michigan State and Minnesota, before hosting Indiana and then traveling to Ohio State. All but the Spartans were ranked in the AP Top 25 at the time of each game as well. That is the first time in the history of the AP Poll, which dates back to 1936, that the Nittany Lions have faced such a daunting run.
With the Knights providing, shall we say, a weaker test than the last six games, this figures to be a chance for the Nittany Lions to find a bit of a rhythm on both sides of the ball. Regardless of Sean Clifford's status, James Franklin called him a game time decision, expect to see plenty of Will Levis, and perhaps one or both of the true freshmen signal callers.
A CHANCE FOR THE KIDS
Dan broke this down much more thoroughly earlier this week, but expect to see plenty of true freshmen in this one. With just two games left, and a tough bowl opponent waiting over the holidays, this figures to be the best opportunity to get those players already preserving a redshirt some valuable game experience.
Pay particular attention to the receiver rotation with redshirt freshmen Justin Shorter entering the transfer portal. It will be interesting to see if true freshmen T.J. Jones and John Dunmore get any run on offense. Both Floridians have appeared in just one game this season.
Players like Brenton Strange, Lance Dixon, Caedan Wallace, Joey Porter Jr., Hakeem Beamon, and Tyler Rudolph figure to be bigger pieces in 2020, and this will be a good opportunity for all to see some extended playing time.
crack into the leftovers early if...
- Penn State starts fast and goes up big early. Let's be honest here, the Nittany Lions will win this one handily. But after some up and down play on both sides of the ball in recent weeks, playing fast and sharp early will go a long way to building confidence.
- The true freshmen make their presence known. The Nittany Lions have obviously recruited as well as just about anyone of late, and this is a prime opportunity to flash the potential of the next generation of Nittany Lions.
- Penn State's defensive line has a big game. Last week's performance against a very good Ohio State offensive front should restore some optimism in Sean Spencer's group, but this is the type of game where players like Yetur Gross-Matos, Shaka Toney, and other should put up some big numbers.
Consider finding another saturday activity if...
- I am going to be honest here, usually there are a few things we find find every week, regardless of opponent, that seem plausible and would put the Lions in trouble. I really can't see how that happens this week. Rutgers is a veritable mess of a football team, and Penn State, despite a tough loss in Columbus, is in line for 10 wins. This one won't be close.
Prediction in gif form
Despite being banged up against Ohio State, Sean Clifford gets the start and goes right down the field on the game's opening drive, finding Pat Freirmuth for a touchdown. The Scarlet Knights fumble the ensuing kickoff, and Journey Brown punches it in a few plays later. By halftime, Will Levis has assumed the quarterbacking duties, and we are all checking our programs for the names of the players seeing the field for the Nittany Lions.
Michal Shuster is under center by the time the middle of the third quarter rolls around, and fan favorite Nick Eury is getting the bulk of the carries. Once the game reaches the fourth quarter, New Jersey native Ta'Quan Roberson is getting his first action as a Nittany Lion, with Michael Johnson Jr. getting a couple of series before things end, and all attention turns towards bowl selection day.
Penn State 63, Rutgers 0