A week after regaining some confidence with a home win against Wisconsin, Penn State takes to the road for the final time this season with a road trip to Rutgers. Despite losing the three biggest games in the division this season, Penn State (7-3, 4-3 Big Ten) still has a chance to end the year with a couple of comfortable wins and move up the rankings just enough to get considered for a good bowl destination, but the Nittany Lions will need to flex some muscle in the final two weeks of the season.
Penn State has dominated the series with Rutgers historically and since the Scarlet Knights (1-9, 0-7) joined the Big Ten. After a nail-biter of a win in their first Big Ten meeting, a 13-10 victory for Penn State, James Franklin and the Nittany Lions have allowed just nine points to Rutgers in the last three meetings. Penn State hasn’t put Rutgers away quite like Michigan and Ohio State have, but it has been more than enough to get the job done. Can the Nittany Lions do it again this week?
Penn State at Rutgers
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 17 at 12 p.m. ET
TV: Big Ten Network
Spread: Penn State -27.0
Three Things to Watch
1. Will Tommy Stevens get more playing time?
Penn State starting quarterback Trace McSorley continues to be banged up, although he continues to say he’s fine. Whether he is or not, this week appears to be an opportunity to allow backup quarterback Tommy Stevens to get some significant playing time, and not just to run the football. Penn State has not given Stevens much of a chance to throw the football this season, but this should be a week to take the workload off McSorley before the home finale and allow Stevens a chance to take some shots through the air.
2. Big day for Miles Sanders on the ground
This should be a big day for Penn State’s running game, which may actually lead to few pass attempts by whoever plays quarterback. Rutgers brings the nation’s 119th-ranked rushing defense into the week, which should mean Miles Sanders has a terrific opportunity to rack up plenty of yardage on the ground. Rutgers is allowing 230.2 rushing yards per game. Sanders is the Big Ten’s fourth-leading rusher with 100.7 yards per game after picking up 159 rushing yards against Wisconsin last week.
3. Rutgers at risk of not scoring 100 points in Big Ten play
With two weeks remaining in the regular season, there are five teams that have failed to score 100 points in conference play: Rutgers (83), Mississippi State (67), Akron (97), Rice (98) and UTSA (80). Considering Rutgers’ history in Big Ten play against Penn State and Michigan State, the possibility that the Scarlet Knights will fail to reach 100 points over the course of nine Big Ten games is becoming realistic. In four Big Ten games with Penn State, Rutgers has scored a total of 19 points. In two road trips to Michigan State since joining the conference, Rutgers has scored three points.
Since 2014, only one team has failed to score 100 points in Big Ten play. It was Rutgers in 2016 (86 points).
Penn State has had some frustrating moments on offense this season, especially over the last month, but this should not be one of those weeks that drives Penn State fans mad. The Nittany Lions have overwhelming advantages across the roster and depth chart and should be able to take advantage of that on the road against Rutgers. As much as this could be a week to pad the stats for McSorley, the Nittany Lions should be able to take care of business on the ground and not have to throw the ball much. Look for Penn State to get a big day from Sanders and get a handful of other backs involved in the final road game of the season.
Prediction: Penn State 42, Rutgers 9
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and The Comeback as well as hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.