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Like & Don’t Like: Why on earth would PSU not let Levis throw the ball — even once!

Photo by Penn State Athletics: Will Levis

There’s always a lot to like and not like during a football game. This is my comprehensive list of things I liked and did not like, starting with the most important plays of the game, then going through the contest from the beginning.

Like: Penn State won and won easily, which a lot of people didn’t necessarily expect to happen. The game was never in doubt, as PSU was clearly the better team on both sides of the ball.

Like: PSU’s defense was outstanding. Just terrific. The Lions bottled up Rutgers all day, including two huge stops on two separate fourth-and-1 plays from the Scarlet Knights’ 45 yard line. Those were game-changing plays that showed Penn State’s defense was in control, and the stops led to touchdowns by PSU both times.

Don’t like: What in the world is PSU doing with Will Levis? I’ve said for a while that he looks to be more of a running back playing quarterback than an actual quarterback, and boy oh boy, was that proven Saturday. Levis played a lot — about 20-25 snaps — and didn’t throw a single pass. He carried 17 times for 65 yards and certainly was effective on the ground. But what are we doing here? Is Penn State even trying to develop Levis as a quarterback, somebody who could actually win a game with his arm if Sean Clifford gets hurt or starts throwing a bunch of interceptions again? Because it seems like that plan is out the window, and the only plan for Levis is to have him be a wildcat guy. If it’s the wildcat PSU wants to run, why not use Keyvone Lee or Devyn Ford on direct snaps, with both in the backfield to maybe throw off the defense? That would keep both young running backs involved more. Levis is a good runner, no doubt, and he was important Saturday because he picked up yards and kept the clock moving. But if everyone on defense knows all Levis can do is run, and you’re not even going to try to let him throw the ball occasionally, then there’s no level of creativity or deception involved. This game was never in doubt, and in that kind of game, it’s the perfect opportunity to develop the backup QB by letting him throw the ball some and gain some confidence doing so. Penn State wasn’t interested in doing that at all.

Franklin did address the issue after the game:

“We’ve got to mix some passes in, there’s no doubt about it. But on the same hand, like I mentioned, the weather was significant today,” he said.

“There’s no doubt about it we have to mix some passes in there in the game to make sure they respect it.”

Don’t like: I hate the call to go for it on fourth-and-3 from the Rutgers 35 up 20-7 with 12:54 left. The ONLY way Rutgers could win the game would be if PSU made mistakes and let them. That decision was a mistake that opened the door for the Scarlet Knights. And the call — another QB run — also was bad. Just punt it and make Rutgers go 90 yards, which it was not gonna be able to do.

Like: This is a cool number.

Like: As expected, the PSU defense stopped Rutgers right away after failing on fourth down. The defense was in control, and James Franklin knew that. Still …

Don’t like: Rutgers punted and pinned PSU at its own 2-yard line, so field position then became a problem for the Lions — all a result of the bad decision to go for it on fourth down.

Like: Rutgers’ Adam Korsak had an awesome 62-yard that pinned PSU at its 2. That was a beauty on special teams.

FIRST QUARTER

Like: Glad to see Devyn Ford get the start at RB. I still thought going in that he was the team’s best running back. However, after seeing Keyvone Lee have another strong game, my opinion may have changed.

Don’t like: Keyvone Lee took a handoff and went down without contact for a 3-yard loss, appearing to roll an ankle. Lee went into the medical tent but was up and jogging on the sideline a couple minutes later.

Don’t like: PSU put together a 17-play drive over 6:31 to start the game but came away with nothing. James Franklin made a bizarre call to go for it on fourth-and-13 from the Rutgers 31, and a pass to Jahan Dotson only picked up 7 yards. It would have been a 49-yard FG try into the wind, but that still probably had a higher chance of working than going for it on fourth-and-13. Or, PSU could have punted and pinned Rutgers deep. Going for it there was the worst of the three options.

Like: The Lions’ defense came up with a huge stop on fourth-and-1 at the Rutgers 45 on the Scarlet Knights’ opening possession. Rutgers ran backup QB Johnny Langan right into the middle of the line, and PJ Mustipher and Fred Hansard stopped him. That was a big momentum play for PSU.

Like: It took PSU just five plays to reach the end zone, with Sean Clifford firing a bullet over the middle to a wide-open Parker Washington for a 29-yard TD. Coming off the fourth-down step by the Lions’ defense, that quick scoring strike helped the Lions take control quickly.

SECOND QUARTER

Like: The Lions ran over Rutgers on their third possession, sparked by backup QB Will Levis taking off for 14- and 13-yard gains.

Don’t like: Not fully sure where the blame falls on a third-and-4 pass from Sean Clifford to Parker Washington at the 12. Clifford threw it high and with a lot of zip. Still, Washington had it hit his hands and perhaps should have caught it, and if so, it would have been a TD. My gut says Clifford should have thrown a better ball there to his open receiver, but a lot of folks at home seemed to think Washington dropped it.

Like: PSU came up with another big stop on fourth-and-1 from the Rutgers 45, with Brandon Smith getting pressure on Johnny Langan and forcing an incompletion. That gave the ball right back to the offense in plus territory with a chance to score again.

Like: Keyvone Lee broke off a 21-yard run to the Rutgers 21 to set up another scoring opportunity. Clifford then threw a nice pass to Isaac Lutz for 13 yards to convert a third-and-7 from the 18. That put the Lions at the 5, and Ford coasted in two plays later from 7 yards out. PSU’s O-line was dominating at this point, as the Lions had 140 yards rushing with 6 minutes left in the half.

Don’t like: Ford fumbled from his own 40, giving Rutgers a chance to get some momentum as it recovered at the PSU 36.

Like: The PSU defense was superb in a quick-change situation, stifling Rutgers with ease on the possession after the fumble, with the help of a holding penalty by the Scarlet Knights that killed their hopes on the drive.

THIRD QUARTER

Like: KeAndre Lambert-Smith showed really good awareness for a young receiver as he helped bail out a scrambling Sean Clifford on a pass play on the first series. Lambert-Smith was running an inside route, but as Clifford scrambled, the WR reversed course and ran toward the sideline so his QB could get him the ball for a 9-yard gain and first down.

Like: Rutgers finally showed up to play defense at the start of the second half, stopping PSU after the turnover. That showed some character by the Scarlet Knights after they played a lackluster first half.

Like: Jordan Stout booted a 47-yard field goal to make it 20-0. At some point, the Lions may need a long FG from Stout to win a game this season, so the more he makes now, the more confidence he’ll have when it really matters.

Don’t like: Clifford threw high to Isaac Lutz on third-and-8 from his own 21, and the pass was tipped by Lutz and intercepted by Christian Izien. PSU was up 20-0, so that type of interception wasn’t gonna lose this game. But it was another bad throw and turnover by Clifford in his own territory.

Like: Rutgers’ Bo Melton made a beautiful catch on a 50-50 ball for a touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the 3. Melton came down with the ball as CB Daequan Hardy was defending. Noah Vedral just threw one up for grabs as he was running and getting pressured.

Don’t like: The back side of the PSU defense was caught standing around in the end zone as Vedral was getting chased. Jesse Luketa was there and in position to try and make a play, but he didn’t go up for the ball.

Click for more Nittany Sports Now coverage

PSU coverage around the web:

Post-Gazette: Penn State pounds Rutgers, 23-7, for second win this season

Reading Eagle: PSU report card

PennLive: Sunday Morning quarterback

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Written By

Cory Giger is a 15-year veteran of the Penn State beat and a journalist with 28 years of experience. He has won more than 100 state and national journalism awards during his career, plus he's a voter for the Heisman Trophy in football and Wooden Award in basketball.

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