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No. 14 Penn State Nittany Lions at Rutgers Scarlet Knights: 2018 Football Game Preview

Penn State looks to maintain momentum to move to 8-3, while Rutgers aims to end a nine-game losing streak.

(#14)Penn State (7-3, 4-3) vs. Rutgers (1-9, 0-7)

Kickoff: Noon, HighPoint.com Stadium, Piscataway, NJ

The Betting Line: Penn State -26.5 (Check out SBD for the most current spread, as well as for any other online odds and betting info for this weekend)

TV: BTN- Chris Vosters (play-by-play), Shaun O’Hara (analyst)

Weather: A pleasant day for mid-November, with sunshine and a high near 50.

COACHES:

James Franklin:

PENN STATE RECORD: 43-20, 5th Year

OVERALL RECORD: 67-35, 8th Year

VS. RUTGERS: 4-0

Chris Ash:

RUTGERS RECORD: 7-27, 3rd Year

OVERALL RECORD: Same

VS. PENN STATE: 0-3

NOW THE FUN PART….

RUTGERS OFFENSE VS. PENN STATE DEFENSE

The Rutgers offense is led by freshman quarterback Artur Sitkowski, a 6-foot-5 pocket passer with a strong arm. As expected, Sitkowski has looked like a freshman often and is going through the growing pains typical of a quarterback playing so soon. His completion percentage is just under 50 percent on the season, and has just four games where he surpassed the 50 percent completion mark. Even worse, Sitkowski has thrown just four touchdowns to 16 interceptions.

Sitkowski is not a very mobile quarterback and will not likely be used on any designed runs. He has -35 yards rushing on the season, and just three games with positive rushing yards. With Penn State’s defensive line getting consistent pressure with a four man front, it seems as though they will be able to force Sitkowski into some poor decisions on Saturday.

Junior running back Raheem Blackshear is easily the primary playmaker for the Scarlet Knights, leading the team in both rushing and receiving yards. Blackshear relies on explosiveness and being elusive, and is not a workhorse Big Ten-style back at 5-foot-9 and 192 pounds. He has yet to receive 20 or more carries in a game this season, and his productivity has worn off throughout the year. In the first five games of the season, Blackshear rushed for 328 rushing yards, but in the most recent five contests that number has dropped to 150.

A big part of this dropoff is the emergence of freshman Isaih Pacheco, who is coming off a 142-yard rushing performance against Michigan’s vaunted defense that included an 80-yard touchdown scamper to keep Rutgers in the game for much of the first half. Pacheco has a season average of 5.5 yards per carry, while Blackshear’s is 4.3.

As mentioned, Blackshear is the team’s leading receiver with 40 receptions for 332 yards. He recently had a huge day against Wisconsin, catching eight passes for 162 yards and a touchdown. It will definitely be something to look for on Saturday with the Nittany Lion defense’s struggles against the screen this season.

Sophomore Bo Melton is another frequent target, with 25 catches for 216 yards on the season.

PENN STATE OFFENSE VS. RUTGERS DEFENSE

Penn State’s offensive line had its best game of the season on Saturday against Wisconsin, helping pave the way for Miles Sanders to rush for 159 yards with a 6.9 yards per carry average. Sanders and Co. could be in for a bigger day this week as Rutgers is among the very worst run defenses in the nation, giving up 230.2 yards per contest. Penn State should look to exploit this match-up early and often, setting up for Trace McSorley then move the ball through the air.

This will be more of a challenge though, as the Scarlet Knights secondary has done a solid job this season, giving up just 188 yards per game. Some opposing quarterbacks have had some success— Michigan’s Shea Patterson tossed for 260 yards and three TDs last week, while others have been able to limit passing attempts to focus on punishing the Scarlet Knights with the ground game.

Rutgers does have a playmaker in outside linebacker Trevor Morris, The King of Prussia-native leads the team in tackles by a wide margin with 91. He’s an effective blitzer as well who can provide consistent pressure off the edge. Defensive ends Mike Tverdov and Elorm Lumar have improved over the year and shown the ability to be disruptive at times.

As you can imagine for a 1-9 team, Rutgers has been prone to giving up points, allowing 34.3 per game. The Scarlet Knights were gouged for 52 by Ohio State, 42 by Michigan and Buffalo, and most shocking of all, allowed 55 points to Kansas. Yes, Kansas.

Trace McSorley has been battling injuries the past several weeks, but looked sharp against Wisconsin. However, his mobility is limited and he may not be able to run the ball like his usual self.

McSorley targeted KJ Hamler several times in the opening drives against Wisconsin, which helped open up the rest of the offense. It was a sound strategy that could work again to try to get the Nittany Lions’ most explosive playmaker the ball in space, and help set him up as a decoy to spread the ball around.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Rutgers has a reliable kicker with a big leg in Justin Davidovicz, who is 8-of-10 on the season with a long from 52 yards. He’s also connected on all 15 extra point attempts. Punter Adam Korsak has also been impressive. The Australian-style punter is averaging 42.3 yards per punt and regularly flips the field with punts of 50-plus yards. His season long is a massive 79-yarder against Northwestern.

The Scarlet Knights do not boast a strong return game. Pacheco is a suitable kick returner, averaging 19.4 yards per return with a long of 34. Freshman cornerback Avery Young has only returned four punts with an average of 4.8 yards per return.

PREDICTION

Penn State-41, Rutgers-7

For all the hand-wringing over the three losses this season, Penn State has a very real shot t its third consecutive NY6 Bowl if they can win the final two games of the season. The team will come in focused and motivated, and the schedule sets up nicely for a strong finish. While the final moments of the Ohio State and Michigan State game could have— and should really have— gone differently, a 9-3 regular season in the Big Ten is not too shabby considering the team had just two returning starters on defense and was breaking in a slew of young playmakers on offense to replace some Penn State record-holders who are now doing big things on Sundays.

Penn State’s offense had a nice bounce back game against Wisconsin, and should be ready for an even more productive day against Rutgers. The defense had its best overall game as well from start-to-finish, and match up well with the Scarlet Knights. The defensive line especially should make life miserable for Sitkowski on Saturday. If the offense comes out hot and jumps to an early lead, things could go off the rails in a hurry for Rutgers.

Sanders has a big day, slicing through the Rutgers defense for 190 yards and two scores, with Journey Brown adding another touchdown. Trace McSorley picks up where he left off against Wisconsin, tossing for 250 yards and touchdown passes to true freshmen Jahan Dotson and Pat Freiermuth. Yetur Gross-Matos continues his recent tear with a two-sack performance to go along with four TFLs, and Shareef Miller joins him for another two sacks and a forced fumble. Cornerback Tariq Castro-Fields grabs an interception to help get the rout started as Penn State wins big.

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