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Game #10 Preview: Rutgers At #16 Penn State

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Rutgers needs intangibles over stats again.

NCAA Football: Penn State at Rutgers
Barkley is back and better than ever.
Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

How To Watch, Stream & Listen

Rutgers (4-5; 3-3) At #16 Penn State (7-2; 4-2)

Where: Beaver Stadium (capacity 106,572)

Kick-off: Saturday, November 11th at 12:00 p.m. ET

Weather: Cold, with temperatures barely above freezing, low chance of precipitation.

TV: Big Ten Network - Kevin Kugler, Matt Millen, and Lisa Byington

Stream: BTN2GO

Radio: Rutgers IMG Sports Network with Chris Carlin, Ray Lucas, and Anthony Fucilli - WCTC 1450-AM, WOR 710-AM, WENJ 97.3-FM, WNJE 920-AM

Current Spread: Penn State -31

Series History: Penn State leads 25-2 all-time, including the last three meetings as Big Ten members.

SB Nation Penn State site: Black Shoe Diaries

Penn State Statistical Leaders

Passing: Trace McSorley - 190 of 296 for 64.2%, 2452 yards, 19 TD, 8 INT; 103 carries, 305 yards, 3.0 ypc, 8 TD

Rushing: Saquon Barkley - 152 carries for 864 yards, 5.7 ypc, 9 TD; Miles Sanders - 12 carries for 88 yards, 7.3 ypc, 1 TD

Receiving: Barkley - 39 receptions for 504 yards, 12.9 ypc, 3 TD; Mike Gesicki - 38 receptions for 374 yards, 4 TD; DaeSean Hamilton - 36 receptions for 606 yards, 6 TD

Defense: LB Jason Cabinda - 64 tackles, 4.5 tackles for a loss, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble; DB Marcus Allen - 55 tackles, 4 tackles for a loss, 1 INT, 1 sack, 7 passes defended; DB Amani Oruwariye - 20 tackles, 4 INT, 1 forced fumble; DE Shareef Miller - 28 tackles, 4 sacks;

Kicking: Tyler Davis - 44 of 44 PAT, 8 of 15 FG

Penn State Statistical Comparison Versus Rutgers

S&P+ Advanced Stats Profiles: Penn State I Rutgers

Rutgers Advanced Stats Win Probability - 13% (per Football Study Hall)

Projected Score per Football Study Hall: Penn State 35.3 Rutgers 15.9

S&P+ Team Ranking: Penn State 10th; Rutgers 82nd

S&P+ Offensive Ranks: Penn State 22nd; Rutgers 113th

S&P+ Defensive Ranks: Penn State 15th; Rutgers 40th

(conference ranks noted below)

Scoring Offense: Penn State 38.8 ppg (2nd); Rutgers 22.6 ppg (13th)

Scoring Defense: Penn State 14.8 ppg (2nd); Rutgers 24.9 ppg (10th)

Strength v. Strength:

Per S&P+, Rutgers is number 1 in the nation in one thing. They have tallied a pass defended on 47.1% of opponent incompletions. Had it not been for Purdue’s drops that number would amazingly be over 50%. Penn State is elite in this stat also, 11th in the country at 41.4%.

Something Has To Give:

In obvious passing situations, Penn State has surrendered sacks on 11.3% of their dropbacks, 111th in the country. RU has only gotten sacks on 3.7% of plays in obvious passing downs, 115th in the country.

Keys To Keeping it Close

Minimize Big Plays From Penn State

This is similar to last week because as electric as Ty Johnson is, Barkley is even better at football overall. He is closing in on 1,000 yards rushing and also leads the team in receptions. The rest of PSU’s offensive players exist to do two things, block and make big plays. They have FIVE players (Saeed Blacknall almost a 6th) with more receiving yards this season than Rutgers leader, Jerome Washington. McSorley will find the open man when given any reasonable time or can scramble for big yards, too.

On the flip side, Rutgers defense seems to be getting healthier and if K.J. Gray is a go (though currently doubtful) after a possible concussion last week, will finally be back to three healthy safeties. A season ago, Rutgers like many bottom third college defenses was almost guaranteed to surrender touchdowns on any drive where their opponent notched a first down or two. This year, the longer a field the opponent needs to go, the more chances to get a stop as it should be. The RU defense has been able to get stops several times at the edge of field goal range or even more importantly in the red zone itself. Plus PSU’s kicking game has been shaky at best so they go for it on more 4th downs than you would think, situations Rutgers has shown some resiliency.

Run It With some level of success

First off, Penn State has a top 10 defense. They were leading the nation in fewest points allowed just two weeks ago. Rutgers is a run-first, run-second team and rarely does a team pull an upset when their strength is rendered obsolete by an opponent. Penn State’s linebackers are much better against the run, but RU’s minimal passing attack is not enough to succeed without some success on the ground so they need to try.

Complete a few downfield passes

Play action will have a chance to work IF Rutgers can run it. But without the success on the ground, Rutgers is in for a long day. If Rutgers can get just a little something going and get a few big plays in the pass game, the two will feed off one another. The aforementioned Penn State linebackers are stout against the run, but have proven vulnerable in coverage the past two weeks. If Rutgers can only throw the ball short, the Nittany Lion secondary will be creeping up big time. If RU can hit one long bomb, perhaps like the play where Bo Melton was behind the defense last week but miscommunicated with Gio, there will be more room in the middle for Washington, Griffin-Stewart, maybe even Grant and Blackshear to have one on one matchups with linebackers.

Do not turn the ball over

In Chris Ash’s mind, Rutgers has not committed a turnover in three games, omitting the Hail Mary to end the first half against Maryland which had no tangible impact. On the road, an at or near capacity crowd over 100,000 (not a misprint) will feed off any fumble, interception, muffed punt, etc. This is about three times the number of fanatics that were supporting Illinois when Rutgers traveled to Champaign. In that game, Rutgers was came out mostly unscathed despite fumbling three times. Don’t expect the same luck again.

Get a pass rush

Rutgers has been inconsistent in this area all season, but they seemed to figure something out against Maryland. AND that was with Elorm Lumor and C.J. Onyechi playing the ends in passing situations, not Kemoko Turay and Darnell Davis, the team’s best edge rushers. If Turay is healthier and Davis returns this week (I understand he missed the last game for a family emergency), RU defensive line coach Shane Burnham will have his fullest cupboard since Week 1. This should keep the unit fresh and offer more possibilities to mix up looks and playcalls.

If you watched the OSU-PSU all-time classic game, you noticed when the Nittany Lions were forced to pass, McSorley did not even have time for a five step drop. It was as if the defensive linemen were not being blocked at all. Even factoring in the sacks, PSU still has the 35th best conversion rate in the nation on passing downs because of McSorley/Barkley. Despite the lack of sacks, Rutgers has the 24th best defense in the country in passing situations due to their ability to get interceptions and turn those into big plays. The Penn State offensive line is by far the weakest link on a team that boasts a strong QB, RB, WR, TE, and top-10 defense. If RU can get in McSorley’s face a little bit early, PSU may keep it conservative on third down that should keep the game closer longer than the 100k Nittany Lion fans feel comfortable.

Not to be confused with the point above, the semantics of playing loose are often debated as everyone seemingly has a different take on what it means. Rutgers literally has nothing to lose in this game, coming in as 31 point underdogs on the road. So they should play that way as there is no need to be nervous or hesitate. Most coaches come into games they should win as overly conservative, but James Franklin is a little bit of a wildcard which contributes to some of his success. If he decides to run a few trick plays, long bombs, and takes a few defensive risks that work, this game could be over in the first half. If those chances don’t pan out, this does have a chance, albeit a small one, of being an upset.