Penn State came into SHI Stadium on Saturday afternoon and looked like the top-10 team they were in the preseason. The 2020 Nittany Lions did not want to be the team that lost to Rutgers for the first time since 1988.
In the Scarlet Knights’ locker room, there was hope.
Noah Vedral was back under center for Rutgers and Raiqwon O’Neal took his spot back at left tackle. Greg Schiano and Sean Gleeson had Rutgers trending in the right direction and primed to take advantage of the worst Penn State team in recent memory.
From the opening kickoff, this game seemed uneven.
The Nittany Lions were able to manhandle Rutgers in the trenches on their way to a 23-7 victory in Piscataway. Penn State was able to assert their dominance in all phases of the game.
The first two possessions of the game saw both teams turn the ball over on downs. On Penn State’s second possession of the game, they marched 45 yards on five plays ending in a Parker Washington 29-yard touchdown reception from Sean Clifford.
Penn State has struggled to run the ball all season but they were able to gain an advantage early in this one. In the first half alone, Penn State rushed for 133 yards. They went into the locker room with a 17-0 lead.
This was one of the worst halves all season for the Scarlet Knights. The offense, which has improved greatly, looked just like the Rutgers’ of old. They totaled just 38 yards in the first half and had two first downs. Noah Vedral completed five of 10 passes for 22 yards and Isaih Pacheco rushed four times for two yards.
Penn State came into this game and physically pounded the Scarlet Knights over the first 30 minutes. The second half was more of the same.
Rutgers would fumble on their first possession of the second half, setting up the Nittany Lions with great field position. This set up a 47-yard field goal from Jordan Stout to extend the lead to 20-0. The Scarlet Knights would get on the board with 4:56 left in the third quarter on a Bo Melton touchdown reception on fourth-and-goal from the three-yard line.
This is a Rutgers’ defense that was allowing 170.3 yards per game on the ground coming in. Penn State’s offensive line created lanes all afternoon for their ball carriers. The Nittany Lions finished with 248 yards on the ground. Keyvone Lee led the way with 17 carries for 95 yards. Devyn Ford and Will Levis would add 65 yards a piece.
The Scarlet Knights came into this game as arguably one of the most improved offenses in the nation. That was not the case here. Rutgers finished with 215 total yards. They racked up just three yards per carry and 3.8 yards per pass. Vedral finished 17-30 for 113 yards and a touchdown while Pacheco carried the ball just once in the second half. Kay’Ron Adams led all running backs with eight carries.
To put it in perspective, Rutgers had the ball 13 times, including the final possession of the game when Vedral was sacked by PJ Mustipher to end the game. They finished with seven punts, three turnovers on downs, and a fumble.
In a 2-5 season full of ups and downs, this game was the ultimate low point for the season. Even lower than the loss to Illinois on a last-second field goal. Rutgers will have two more chances this season to pick up that third win, which would match their total from the previous two seasons combined.
The Scarlet Knights will travel to College Park, Maryland to take on the Terrapins next Saturday before Big Ten Championship Week on Dec. 19.