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Rutgers defensive report card against Penn State

Heisman hopeful Barkley stymied, McSorley picks him up.

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Penn State
The Knights bottled up Barkley, but not McSorley.
Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Ten down, two* to go. How did the units grade out against the Nittany Lions? Let us know how you feel about the defensive performance with our poll and in the comments below.

We break down the defensive performance at each of the three levels organized by alignment, assignment, and technique. The players listed in each group are in order of how noticeable they were to me, but potentially not every player who saw action.

Defensive Line: B (Wilkins, Turay, Turner, Joseph-Day, Bateky, Nash, Lumor, Previlon, Hogan, Davis)

Alignment: Rutgers switched and played 30 fronts early in the game with the weak side defensive end often up on two feet. They switched it up to more 40 fronts as the game went on.

Assignment: Rutgers defensive line was in total stop the run mode early on trying to occupy as many blockers as possible for the second week in a row.

Technique: The game plan worked as Wilkins, Bateky, and whomever was in as the third down lineman were requiring five blockers to block three. Even then, Penn State could not run the ball in the middle at all despite the numbers advantage. Pass rush technique could have been better as losing the outside contain resulted in at least one key 3rd down QB scramble.

Individual other player thoughts: Kevin Wilkins (4 tackles) was a load and looked again like an All-Big Ten performer. On one play there was only three players on that side of the field, the left tackle, Wilkins, and Barkley with tons of open space, but Kevin tossed the blocker like a rag doll and easily took down Barkley. Julius Turner struggled against the large PSU group and did not record a stat. Jon Bateky (3 tackles, one sack) required double teams all game. Joseph (2 tackles, one for loss) clogged up space too. Will Previlon got less snaps with Wilkins, Bateky, and Joseph having so much success. Elorm Lumor took a slight step back. Myles Nash showed some energy but lost contain on one huge third down. Kemoko Turay (2 tackles, 1 TFL) looked healthier than a week ago, but was not quite his usual self. Darnell Davis returned to action and had one of his better games with three tackles (0.5 TFL). Jimmy Hogan didn’t grab any stats.

The three big guys played awesome in the run game and even got a little pressure on the quarterback. The 4th rusher was often picked up by a back and when Rutgers had four men rushing against six blockers, McSorley had enough pocket presence to avoid sacks as the game wore on. Overall though, you have to be pleased when the best running back in the country does nothing against you outside two one yard touchdown plunges late in the game.

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Penn State
Wilkins made his presence felt.
Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Linebackers: B- (Morris, Roberts, Douglas, Onyechi, Russell)

Alignment: Rutgers played mostly nickel looks either as 4-2-5 or at times looking more like the old West Virginia 3-3-5. Sometimes it was Turay or Darnell Davis as the 4th lineman while others C.J. Onyechi was that strong LB / DE.

Assignment: Rutgers did not send their ends in pass coverage as much as we have seen earlier this year. This is likely because Penn State was looking to exploit matchups where Barkley or Sanders was covered by an LB in space. For the most part one of the backers was always coming on a rush unless it was long yardage.

Technique: In the run game, the team did a great job funneling plays to the crowded middle. In pass zones, they could have taken some better angles when McSorley was loose, but against backs were pretty solid.

Individual other player thoughts: Ross Douglas was in there early but did not record any stats as he perhaps got banged up because Brandon Russell (4 tackles) all of a sudden got a ton of reps. I believe he was the one victimized on McSorley’s scramble for the touchdown when the play easily could have been stopped for a 5 yard loss even though everyone else was sucked in by the fake handoff. C.J. Onyechi (3 tackles, 1 TFL) saw action in certain formations and continues to show he needs more action. Trevor Morris (3 tackles) was ok as the action was not near him that much, for what it’s worth. Deonte Roberts (9 tackles, 0.5 TFL) deserves a lot of credit for keeping the team aligned in so many different formations with varied personnel. Despite all that he piled up more tackles too and was a key reason so few plays were made up the middle.

We are so accustomed to seeing Morris pile up what are often criticized as padded stats but today he was not in the action much. Penn State’s gains were often over the linebackers or after the rush couldn’t quite get the sack in time. The backers could have played better, but were not bad.

Secondary: C+ (Harris, Hayes, Hester, Wharton, Bailey, Campbell)

Alignment: Rutgers was in some version of nickel virtually the entire game. For the DBs that usually meant either a two high safety look with three corners in press man or sometimes Ross Douglas sliding from his linebacker spot to a slot corner.

Assignment: Rutgers played press-man with Wharton and Hayes and avoided big plays down the sideline for the most part, though Hayes was called for a crucial pass interference on one such occasion. The job was more impressive considering for probably the first time this season, Rutgers went cover zero at times, with no safety help.

Technique: Rutgers defensive backs held up in initial coverage pretty well. When the pass rush was not able to get sacks and McSorley bought time though, eventually they got beat in the second half. The guys in zones were not effective in assisting the primary defender.

Individual other player thoughts: Hester (5 tackles, 1 PD) looked ok on the stat sheet but did not have the same impact as in recent weeks. Jawuan Harris (2 tackles) was exposed for the first time as McSorley delivered the ball too quickly without telegraphing. K.J. Gray did not play due to concussion protocol. Wharton (4 tackles) held up on an island for the most part, so did Damon Hayes (4 tackles) other than the PI. Campbell (1 tackle) yet again was forced into duty as the third safety, giving his all. Dacoven Bailey (2 tackles, 1 sack) rotated in and saw snaps at slot corner and even had a sack, yes.

The secondary in their one on one matchups played pretty well, but gets dinged for their zones and help. They faced a really tremendous quarterback and even after making him one dimensional did allow 214 yards on only 21 attempts. In their defense, McSorley did not throw balls into coverage for them to intercept and either scrambled or threw it away. Against most other quarterbacks in the country this effort may have looked like an A even with a walk-on, a two way WR/DB, and guy who hadn’t played D in years getting most of the action.

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Penn State
Campbell delivered this hit.
Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Coaching: B

I strongly considered giving an A here because the coaching staff had an awesome game plan in this one. They ran mostly 30 fronts with an end standing up and rushing most of the time. They brought a 5th rusher on many occasions and it wasn’t always from the weak side. McSorley was confused and took some hits early on before figuring it out enough to make some plays on the ground and in the air. Even then Penn State could not simply hand the ball off and run out the clock for victory.

One thing that dropped the grade to a B had more to do with preparation. Perhaps it was so many schemes to keep track of that resulted at times in Rutgers players not covering anyone really. Penn State did a great job of putting their receivers in areas where there was not good help. The combination of good coaching and quarterbacking eventually was able to defeat the Rutgers looks as the game wore on.

A week ago I gave the staff of B, after being pretty critical other times this season. They held Saquon Barkley to 55 yards (35 rushing and 20 receiving) and now his Heisman candidacy may be only longshot. Yea, the depth wasn’t there to hold up for four quarters but coaches can’t get new players in season or during the game. They did the best they could with the current healthy bodies and scared 100,000 fans until midway through the third quarter.

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Penn State
Ash and staff gave this one 110%.
Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Effort: B+

This defense repeated their performance against Penn State a year ago, bottling up Penn State’s explosive offense for the first half for the most part. A late touchdown really hurt the momentum and the group couldn’t sustain the energy they had at the beginning of the game.

Overall grade: B

This was about as normal a college football game as there is when one team simply has no offense. It started out close and eventually, Rutgers was put in worse and worse positions until they finally wore out. The game plan was solid, the energy was there early on, and they forced Penn State to be one dimensional. Trace McSorley was Gio-like, but with a much better passing attack to elevate his team to victory. If Rutgers can play like this regularly on the defensive side, they should have chances to win most of their games.

Three stars:

  1. Jon Bateky
  2. Kevin Wilkins
  3. Deonte Roberts

CAPTAIN OBVIOUS: To become a legitimate team in the Big Ten East, Rutgers will need to beat Penn State and stop the streak.

Reasons for pessimism: 1. Maryland, Purdue, and Illinois are not very good. 2. Rutgers passing offense is simply horrendous, 20 attempts for 43 yards, should they become a triple option team? 3. Indiana should be ready for the same game plan. 4. Can Rutgers win without a huge field position changing turnover? 5. Janarion Grant is just not the guy in this video right now. 6. Does Maryland really have 4 QBs better than Rutgers signal caller? 7. The margin for error is so thin and Rutgers has gotten the luck a few times already. 8. Michigan State has gotten that out of their system. 9. Indiana finally got the monkey off their back. 10. To become a legit NFL prospect does Jerome Washington need to play a 5th year elsewhere?

Reasons for optimism: 1. Penn State’s offense barely cracked 300 yards. 2. What if Damon Hayes doesn’t get called for PI to set up a TD? 3. Michigan State looked worse against Ohio State than Rutgers did somehow. 4. If Gus Edwards didn’t step out at the 10 yard line does Rutgers gain huge momentum at that point? 5. What if Russell makes the tackle on McSorley in the backfield on his TD? 6. The team still has more to play for than pride. 7. Rutgers made Saquon Barkley’s Heisman candidacy look like a joke. 8. Gio continues to get healthier and the Rutgers passing game simply can’t go backward again, can it? 9. Penn State is a top 10 team and Rutgers hung in there. 10. Every team is banged up, but Penn State is one of the healthiest teams around.

Dave wonders, can 2018 be the year to finally beat these guys? It has to happen eventually, though I’m not as sure about Ohio State.


How do you grade the Knights defense v Penn State?

This poll is closed

  • 12%
    A: Just gave it their all, held the Heisman front runner to 35 rush yards!
    (38 votes)
  • 76%
    B: Solid effort, if Rutgers offense could do anything, might have been a game.
    (232 votes)
  • 6%
    C: Passing grade, but they need to be awesome.
    (20 votes)
  • 4%
    D: Just could not get stops in the second half.
    (13 votes)
  • 0%
    F: Terrible. (This may count our trollers).
    (2 votes)
305 votes total Vote Now