After an initial turnover on the kickoff, it looked liked the momentum was in Rutgers favor. Saquon Barkley would let the ball bounce on the onside kick, and Rutgers would recover the ball on the Penn State 21 yard line. In what at first would seem like an exciting Andrew Harte 33-yard field goal, the inability to convert to a touchdown in the red zone would ultimately spell Rutgers' demise.
With Penn State getting off to slow start after close loses to MSU and theOSU, they would regain that McSorley/Barkley magic, and 35 unanswered points would be to much for a stagnant Rutgers offense to keep up with. The defense played really well at times, but simply wore down in the second half. Final Score PSU 35, RU 6. Womp. Below are a few key takeaways that led to a disappointing Rutgers loss.
1. After his season ending ankle injury last year, Janarion Grant is not the electrifying, unstoppable player he once was.
Ok, that probably is not the #1 reason for the loss, but to me is the most upsetting. I love Janarion Grant, and at one time he was arguably the best punt returner in the B1G, but this season, he has just not looked the same. In this match up, he fielded a total of 4 kickoffs, and 1 punt return for averages of 20.5 and 12 yards respectively. He has yet to take it to the house this season, and seems slightly more timid which is warranted after a nagging injury. However, without their (not so) secret weapon, the Rutgers offense lacks the spark generated by an all-purpose player like Grant.
2. Speaking of the offense, they could not get it going today, particularly on the passing game.
It is no secret that I love Gio Rescigno, as since recovering from a bone bruise this season, he has proven to truly be a dual threat quarterback. He can use his feet, he gets outside, and shows his toughness by pushing off defenders like PSU’s Kevin Givens to get the first down. However, after winning the time of possession and yardage battle early in the game, PSU found its stride and adjusted to Rutgers vanilla offense, PSU would score 35 unanswered points, and Rutgers would not get another 1st down until early in the 4th quarter. Part of this was due to stalls in the run game, some due to poor throws, but honestly the young receivers were not able to gain much separation and make the important catches. True freshman Hunter Hayek missed a few key completely catchable passes, although he has had his moments this season. A winning team finds a way to convert and Rutgers couldn't do that today.
3. Special Teams continues to improve, but punter Ryan Anderson was not as lethal as previously seen
Andrew Harte made both of this field goal attempts today, preventing the Scarlet Knights from another embarrassing shutout this season. This brings his field goal completion percentage to 70% this season, with a career long of 50 against Maryland last week.
Return coverage continues to improve as well as the Knights limited big returns aside from a 30-yard kick return from powerhouse Saquon Barkley in the first quarter. It is important to note the impact is also minimized by the powerful legs of Justin Davidovicz and Ryan Anderson, as the ball is often buried deep in the opposing teams territory. Anderson did have some short kicks this game, which may be due to having limited room to run given he was often kicking it deep in his own territory.
Grant’s fumble was an unfortunate mistake is a relatively mistake-free game, which leads us to our next takeaway.
4. Penalties hurt, especially against a more talented opponent.
While a loss to Penn State always hurts, and I would not necessarily call this game a moral victory, Penn State is undeniably a better and more well-rounded team than Rutgers. Although Saquon Barkley is the former Janarion Grant of their offense. I digress. In match-ups like this, it is important not to give favors to the other team. A pass interference penalty with the other team deep in their own territory is unacceptable. Damon Hayes overall played a very good game, but his pass interference penalty late in the second quarter increased the PSU lead to 14-6 going into the half, which was tough to take after Rutgers held a lead most of the first two quarters.
5. Defense continues to be a point of strength, but they finally broke In the second half.
There were moments of beauty with this defense, with a tackle for loss by true freshman CJ Onyechi against Saquon Barkley bringing a tear to my eye. The defense continues to fight, and to keep Rutgers in the game, but when the offense is 3-15 on third down efficiency, the defense started to wear down. Pair that with trick plays, a great use of the read option by McSorley, and the fire of Barkley leaping over receivers, and the defense was ultimately overcome by Penn State’s offense.
For all of us who were hoping for an upset, I hope you can find some comfort in the fact that we beat the spread again. While it was only by 2 pts (6%), this was still an improvement, particularly given we lost 39-0 last year. The defense put forth a great effort and limited Barkley most of the game. Unfortunately, the offense struggled against a very good Penn State defense.
On to next week against the Hoosiers on the road, who beat Illinois 24-14 and whose own defense was very powerful this week. Rutgers will need to find a way to convert in the red zone, make some big plays, and improve it’s passing game in order to continue to improve their record in the B1G. Shake it off, Rutgers. Onward and upward.