No. 10/12 Penn State welcomed Rutgers to Happy Valley for a 3:30 kickoff. PSU came into the week ranked 10th in the BCS rankings so a New Year’s Six Bowl was easily within reach. If everything broke their way, a miracle College Football Playoff appearance was even possible. After Thursday and Friday’s results plus the outcome of the noon games that miracle scenario was off the table. It was far from a typical crowd in one of the nation’s largest stadiums, though still more folks in attendance than even the best RU home turnout in 2019. Penn State’s initial drive hit a critical 3rd and 7 at the RU 35, but after a sack from Tyshon Fogg and Damon Hayes was forced to punt.
On their first drive, Rutgers had a third and short after positive plays from Aaron Young and Isaih Pacheco. With the threat of the run, the linebackers bit on the play action allowing quarterback Johnny Langan a clean look to Bo Melton who sliced through two defenders and achieved a 27 yard gain to the RU 45. Melton was not actually tackled by a defender, but lost his balance while trying to cut away from the defenders. It would prove to be the first major missed opportunity for an RU upset bid because both defenders collided on the play. Melton could have hit the brakes, gathered his balance, and still cruised all the way for a score.
After the large gain and extended timeout due to the two PSU injuries, Johnny Langan had two men in his face and was sacked for a loss that was luckily only determined to be six yards. Langan gained seven on a second down “scramble” that was a perfect illustration of the term. A great play call by interim Head Coach and Nunzio Campanile in likely his final game in both roles was wasted due to poor execution. The screen was set up perfectly with two blockers and no defenders in front of them, but the throw hit a lineman in the back and Aaron Young could not field the ricochet. Rutgers punted for the first time of many.
Damon Hayes was turned loose in this game early on and had a huge tackle for loss that led PSU to punt on their second possession. Penn State escaped disaster as three Scarlet defenders nearly blocked the ensuing punt. Hayes later was used to blanket KJ Hamler because no one else was able to do anything on the outside for the Nittany Lions (other than a late TD).
Aaron Young made a nice run on first down and then Rutgers had some trickery on second. A flea flicker where Young was unaccounted for after the ball got back to quarterback Johnny Langan netted 39 yards to the PSU 15 yard line. After a hands to the face call on Kamaal Seymour, Rutgers was backed up to their own 32 yard line. Isaih Pacheco nearly slipped into open space, but was stopped by a shoe string.
Isaiah Washington made a nice play to stay in bounds and catch the ball along the sideline to make it a manageable field goal attempt for Justin Davidovicz with the wind at his back. On the play Langan likely should have been called for an illegal forward pass as he rolled out and it looked like his feet had crossed the line of scrimmage. Davidovicz converted the 29 yarder and Rutgers had the lead 3-0, 3:32 left first quarter.
The Penn State offensive line got their bearings with the long layoff and mauled Rutgers backward on the first two plays of the ensuing drive. Christian Izien saved a touchdown a few plays later when Levis took it himself for a monster 30 yard gain. As the first quarter clock wound down, Penn State elected to run a play on 3rd and 2 even though they didn’t have to. Rutgers may have been gassed after so many running plays, but put up a weak effort regardless and Journey Brown stretched across the goal line for the game’s first touchdown. With the point after Penn State led 7-3, six seconds to go in the quarter.
The last play of the quarter was a nice perimeter run by Isaih Pacheco (18 carries, 102 yards on the day). Give the Rutgers coaching staff credit because Penn State stuffs almost everything up the gut. Campanile and co. utilized a lot of off tackle runs where receivers, tight ends, and backs had to crash down to seal the edge defenders from PSU. These plays are always in the playbook but must have been drilled well on the practice field this week.
Langan was sacked when the PSU defensive line slanted and Mike Lonsdorf (starting at left tackle) allowed his man a free release inside. A nice bootleg left where Langan connected with Mo Jabbie got it back to third and manageable. Then on third down, Rutgers completed a traditional dropback pass that has evaded them most of the season. Langan was patient then found Isaiah Washington again, this time for 22 yards all the way to the PSU 40 yard line. Rutgers did nothing afterward yet planned to go for it on 4th down, but a needless unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Bo Melton ended those hopes.
On the ensuing punt, it looked Rutgers had KJ Hamler dead to rites at his own 5 yard line but he escaped down the sideline, stepping out of bounds twice before being brought down near midfield by Adam Korsak. The zebras did bring it back after two reviews. After RU bottled up PSU on first and second, Rutgers pummeled Will Levis with a combination of CJ Onyechi and Rashawn Battle.
The joy was short lived as an abysmal attempt at an RU punt return saw the ball bounce and roll down to the RU 3. So it ended up being a 72 yard punt, ouch. Give punter Blake Gillikin credit for taking more advantage of the wind at his back than Korsak did in the first quarter and exploiting poor initial placement of the return man by the Rutgers Special Teams coaches. Rutgers got the ball up to the 33 but punted.
Penn State mounted a nice drive, but Rutgers’s Tre Avery secured an interception at his own 3 by winning a 50/50 ball. Once again the Scarlet Knights faced a 97 yard field in front of them in one of the most hostile environments in college football. The key for Rutgers on offense was the will and resilience of the offensive line, Isaih Pacheco, and Langan. Not only did they eat enough clock to prevent Penn State from getting a late chance to add to their lead before half, Rutgers got the ball into scoring range. Unfortunately some average at best clock management resulted in a Justin Davidovicz field goal try that missed badly to the right.
The Scarlet Knights outplayed the Nittany Lions in the first half by every measure other than the scoreboard tally. PSU outrushed RU by a mere 11 yards (108 to 97), but RU outgained them overall by over 100 yards.
Halftime stats: First Downs: RU 11, PSU 8. Total yards; PSU 129, RU 243. Passing yards: PSU 21, RU 146. Time of possession: RU 16:02, PSU 13:58.
Rutgers received the second half kickoff, but elected not to go for 4th and 18 inches. Penn State immediately rattled off a 50 yard run by Levis where RU had two chances in the backfield to bring him down to bring him down then a TD on the next play from Journey Brown, his second of the game. 13-3.
Penn State saw their ensuing extra point try blocked and were lucky to escape without further damage. Rutgers recovered the ball and Tim Barrow had a convoy that would likely have gotten him all the way the length of the field for a 2 point conversion for the defense. However, the ball bounced in the end zone before RU picked it up and by rule it could not be returned. Bad break because Barrow could have probably caught it before the bounce if he tried OR had it bounced at the 1, would have been a live ball.
After the teams traded punts, RU was bailed out on a questionable roughing the passer call to extend the drive. Later in the drive, Bo Melton achieved a first down on a 4th and 3 on a questionable spot that went RU’s way. The clock continued to move though and as the time ran out in the 3rd quarter, Rutgers faced a 4th and 1 at the PSU 21. They would get the wind at the start of the 4th quarter so a field goal would be more manageable.
Rutgers did elect try try a 38 yard field goal to open the final quarter of play and Justin Davidovicz nailed it to make it a 13-6 game with 14:55 remaining.
The momentum was quickly seized by Penn State on a long kick return from KJ Hamler. The play of the game came on a 3rd Down and 15 at the RU 44. A bounced snap was scooped up by Will Levis who in the confusion found Jahan Dotson for a touchdown where he found a spot in the deep zone then ran around the pursuit. This more than doubled PSU’s passing yardage in the game (just 32 prior to that play). 20-6 PSU, 12:16 to go.
10 minutes to go, RU faced a 4th and 3 (they were in a hole after being sacked on a flea flicker). Rutgers barely got the play off, but Langan made a great perfect throw to Shameen Jones who broke off his route perfectly. Jones could not redeem so many of his earlier career struggles and had the ball fly straight through his hands, off his facemask, and harmlessly incomplete.
After that, it was garbage time. Penn State beat Rutgers at their own game, the QB option run. Some high/lowlights: Journey Brown scores his 3rd TD of the game, a Julius Turner penalty sets up a squib kick that PSU recovers at the RU 5 yard line, an RU goal line stand to get the ball back, and true freshman quarterback Cole Snyder making an appearance. On the very last play of the game, Snyder did some scrambling (like Langan often does) to free up space then fired a laser (something Langan cannot do) into the arms of Bo Melton who was fairly well covered along the sideline. Plays like this are why fans have wondered for weeks why Snyder never got an opportunity in a game.
With the loss Rutgers has sole possession of the 2nd longest conference losing streak in Big Ten history at 21 games. (record: 34) This also extends the longest drought in the Power Five for defeating a ranked opponent.
Key stat(s): Will Levis carried for over 100 yards even when he was no threat to pass to anyone other than KJ Hamler. 44 of PSU’s 81 passing yards came on a single play, sound eerily familiar?
Additional Takeaway(s): The Penn State offensive line was getting dominated early in the game. They eventually woke up, but were not overly impressive. They did show how an offensive line just a little better than what Rutgers has can be dramatically more effective in the option run game with the QB/RB tandem in Big Ten competition.
Every year it seems someone on the Rutgers defense is involved in a disproportionate number of plays for better or worse. This year it was Christian Izien (though last week Tim Barrow had the mantle). There were a lot of mistakes, but Izien plays hard and saved numerous touchdowns with hustle tackles.
Christian Dremel showed up with two catches for 19 yards, the first of his career. The freshman who was said during camp to have the best hands on the team had been called out by one of our commenters as someone who should contribute this year. If this was you please pat yourself on the back in the comments below because admittedly none of us believed you. I have wondered for years why RU could not find that quick guy who always lines up off the line of scrimmage to avoid jams and makes some plays on crossing routes.
B1G Boy Football: PSU threw for less than 100 yards, but got over 100 yards on the ground from both backup QB Will Levis and RB Journey Brown.
Next up: The early signing period starts December 18.
Look for more coverage of this game and the news heading into the Penn State game here at onthebanks.com
Check out the links below:
Watch Nunzio Campanile Postgame Presser
Thanks for reading this season, a tough one by every measure. We appreciate it and will reward you with postseason coverage as soon as this week. Here’s to better days ahead.