Penn State's slide from being a potential College Football Playoff contender and Big Ten championship candidate to a team scuffling to stay above .500 has taken fans on quite a downhill slide since the beginning of October. But if there is such a thing as a slump-buster, Penn State (6-4, 3-4 Big Ten) is hoping it is a game at home against Rutgers that comes at the right time.
With much speculation about the future of Penn State head coach James Franklin, it's his Rutgers counterpart, Greg Schiano, who can take advantage of preparing for a game without such distractions. Schiano knows what his program is going up against in Penn State's defense and history shows the Scarlet Knights have always struggled to score points against the Nittany Lions, especially since joining the Big Ten. Rutgers (5-5, 2-5) also is just a win shy from becoming bowl eligible.
Do the Knights have enough in the tank to give Penn State a real battle, or will the Nittany Lions go out flying high in their home finale this weekend in Beaver Stadium?
Rutgers at Penn State
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 20 at 12 p.m. ET
TV: Big Ten Network
Spread: Penn State -17
When Rutgers Has the Ball
Rutgers is coming off perhaps its best game of the season. In a 38-3 victory at Indiana, Rutgers rushed for 218 yards as a team, with Isaih Pacheco leading the ground game with 79 yards and two touchdowns. But the Scarlet Knights don't appear to have the kind of offense that should give Penn State's defense a stiff challenge. Rutgers quarterback Noah Vedral has thrown for 1,590 yards with only seven touchdown passes this season, and if the Nittany Lions can find a way to slow down the Knights' ground game, Schiano's roster lacks the players needed to break things open.
Penn State's defense has been locking down on opponents all season long, but at times the unit has given up soul-crushing plays. This was the case last week against Michigan as the defense got caught in a bad spot with a blitz and got burned on it for the game-winning score. But the Nittany Lions' D should thrive in this matchup and keep Rutgers struggling O from putting points on the board.
When Penn State Has the Ball
Quarterback Sean Clifford was sacked seven times last week by Michigan, and he is probably still feeling some of those hits as he comes into what could be his final home game in Beaver Stadium. He should get some better protection this week despite the season-long struggles of the offensive line, and having wide receiver Jahan Dotson to rely on is a great luxury to have. Dotson, a Biletnikoff Award candidate, should have opportunities to make some big plays through the air.
On the ground, the Nittany Lions are still looking for a 100-yard game from a running back (or any player for that matter). Keyvone Lee looked to be on track for one last week against the Wolverines before getting banged up late in the game. But it would not be a shock if Rutgers keeps Penn State's struggles on the ground going for one more week.
If recent meetings in this series are any indication, Penn State isn’t about to light up the scoreboard on Rutgers. Each of the last two meetings has been lower scoring than Nittany Lions fans would like to see, but the games have hardly been in doubt. Expect that to be the story one more time with a dominant defense controlling the game from the start and the offense getting enough scoring drives out of the starters before allowing for some senior curtain calls at the end of the game.
Prediction: Penn State 27, Rutgers 9
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