Seven days after a deflating loss to Michigan— the type of loss that’s become too prevalent for Penn State football in 2021– the Nittany Lions have a seemingly easier opponent for Senior Day at Beaver Stadium.
The Lions host Greg Schiano’s Rutgers Scarlet Knights. Although Rutgers is unquestionably improved from where its been in recent years– the Scarlet Knights have to win just one of their last two games to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2014– Vegas is unmoved. Rutgers sits as a hefty 18-point road underdog coming into Happy Valley.
As with any game, Penn State has certain things going for and against it this week, and here’s what those are.
WHAT THE NITTANY LIONS HAVE GOING FOR THEM
The main thing is that Rutgers isn’t as good as Michigan, hence the 18-point spread.
It’s hard to imagine Penn State’s offensive line being as bad as it was last weekend, and Rutgers has fewer sacks than anybody in the Big 10 aside from 2-8 Indiana. Quite a contrast from having to go against Aiden Hutchinson and David Ojabo.
So, if the line is better and the opposing defense isn’t generating as much pressure, that should equate to more time for Sean Clifford to find Jahan Dotson and Parker Washington and give Clifford more opportunities to make plays with his feet.
Penn State’s running game has also improved in the past two weeks, and Keyvone Lee, who had 88 yards on 20 carries against Michigan, has appeared to earn the No. 1 job.
Defensively, Penn State has been good all season, even in the losses. Rutgers and quarterback Noah Vedral will have difficulty scoring points, which plays in Penn State’s favor.
WHAT THE NITTANY LIONS HAVE GOING AGAINST THEM
Some feel that Penn State has nothing to play for at this point. While I disagree with that– 8-4 looks a lot better than 7-5, no?– it’s clear that Rutgers has a lot more at stake.
Rutgers might make it to a bowl game even with a loss– Maryland at home is certainly doable– but winning that sixth game on the road in a rivalry game (for Rutgers, anyway) at the same stadium where its coach cut his teeth in the profession is a lot more enticing than doing it against Maryland.
Rutgers will be fired up, so if Penn State isn’t on its game, well, we saw what happened against Illinois.
The Nittany Lions are also banged up. Since the Iowa game, Sean Clifford has dealt with injury problems and got knocked down 12 times last week. Jahan Dotson took a hit on the last possession of the Michigan game, so his health will be something to watch as well. It’s harder for Penn State to be on its A-game when key players might not be 100 percent.
I see this playing out how most Penn State and Rutgers’ meetings have played out since the Scarlett Knights joined the Big 10. The underdogs come in as favorites and play well enough not to get embarrassed, but are also never a serious threat to win the game. The favorites are in control the whole way but don’t to make a statement.
Rutgers’ main problem is that it can’t score, and I expect Penn State’s defense to do what it’s been doing all season against the Scarlett Knights. That defense will make up for any offensive shortcomings the Nittany Lions may have. I don’t expect a blowout or a stunner. Just a typical Penn State-Rutgers football game that is ultimately forgettable.
FINAL SCORE: PENN STATE 24, RUTGERS 6.