Kyle Flood is right:
"First impressions matter in life."
It might seem silly that so much is at stake for just the third game of the year. After all, if Rutgers wins this game but loses out, the Scarlet Knights will end up with a losing season. Conversely, if RU loses this Saturday but wins out, few will point to this game as anything but a blip on the radar. But make no mistake, this game is huge for the Scarlet Knights - for more than just a number in the win column.
If a high school student plays the game of football on the East Coast, that player will most likely be in Piscataway. This game will be broadcast to a national audience in primetime, with a studio set on campus for the entire day. It's a chance to show up an opponent that, at the moment, has been dismissive of any chance at a rivalry. A win on Saturday night doesn't vault Rutgers into the college football elite instantaneously, but it does begin the process of getting there. If winning cures all, there's no time like the present.
The million dollar question is, can Rutgers stop Christian Hackenberg? The question takes on more importance considering the Nittany Lions are struggling against the run. To make up for the lack of a running game, they have entrusted their offense on the arm of a 19-year old quarterback. Hack has answered the call emphatically, leading the conference in total offense and passing yards per game. He also has four interceptions to go with all those yards, contributing to Penn State's conference-worst -5 turnover margin. Some of that has to do with the inexperience on the offensive line, which has been mediocre protecting Hack in the pocket, as well as the aforementioned run-game issues. If Darius Hamilton and the Rutgers defensive line would like to find some consistency in the pass rush, now would be the time.
RU also gets CB Dre Boggs back in the secondary, which should provide a boost if he can play like he did during training camp. They'll need it, because the loss of Allen Robinson has been remedied with the emergence of wide receivers DaeSean Hamilton and Geno Lewis. Factor in 6'7" tight end Jesse James, and you can see why Hack has forgotten about his favorite target from 2013.
We might be asking the wrong question though. Maybe the real question is does Rutgers need to stop Christian Hackenberg? After all, the Scarlet Knights gave up 532 yards and five touchdowns to Connor Halliday in the season opener, and still won the game. Ask any Penn State fan if they'd take that kind of performance from Hack, and you would most definitely get a resounding yes. The one thing to remember is that if this game turns into a shootout, Rutgers has the firepower to keep up. The impact of Ralph Friedgen has been monumental through two games, as the offensive wizard has found a way to utilize all of Gary Nova's weapons on offense.
In two games, Penn State leads the conference in total defense, while Rutgers comes in second in scoring offense. On Saturday, one of those units will break.