Staff Predictions: Penn State vs. Rutgers
As you probably know, Penn State takes on Rutgers this weekend in the Scarlet Knights’ first-ever Big Ten game. Rutgers has some talent, but for the second straight week, our writers all agree: The Nittany Lions will #ChopRU.
Here’s what our staff thinks:
CJ Doon (season record: 0-0) Penn State 31, Rutgers 17
If history is any indication, Penn State should easily triumph over Rutgers this Saturday night in Piscataway. The Nittany Lions are 22-2 all-time against the Scarlet Knights, including a 37-year stretch between 1950 and 1987 that saw Penn State outscore their “neighbors to the east” by a combined score of 462 — 195.
After nearly 140 years of mediocrity, Rutgers made a stunning rise back to national prominence in mid 2000s under former head coach Greg Schiano. After defeating 3rd-ranked Louisville at home in 2006, the Scarlet Knights earned their highest BCS ranking in school history, at No. 6 in the polls. Since then, well…they beat UCF in the Beef O’ Brady’s Bowl in 2009! That’s pretty good, right?
What’s really quite sad about the current state of Rutgers football (not including the obvious fact that it’s Rutgers football) is how desperate they are to make this game with Penn State the beginning of a long and bitter rivalry. You have their head coach calling Penn State “the team from Pennsylvania,” a clock in the locker room counting down the precise number of seconds until kickoff, and players saying this game “is going to change New Jersey and Rutgers football forever.” Give me a break.
Christian Hackenberg is shaping up to be not only the best quarterback in Penn State history, but a star at the professional level. The breakout performance of freshman wideout DaeSean Hamilton, along with excellent play from veteran play-maker Geno Lewis and a trio of outstanding tight ends have given the Nittany Lions a potent passing attack, a unit that’s ranked 5th in the country with 386.5 yards per game. The defense, led by Anthony Zettel, Jordan Lucas, Adrian Amos, and a healthy Mike Hull is playing at a high-level under new coordinator Bob Shoop.
Meanwhile, Rutgers surrendered 427 total yards and 25 points to FCS-level Howard, a team that Akron blanked 41-0 in the first week of the season. I like our chances.
Tim Gilbert (season record: 1-1) Penn State 30, Rutgers 12
I like studying spreads. It’s incredibly interesting to me by how many points bookmakers decide a team should be favored, and I tend to view many games through that prism. For instance, the first thing I thought after “FUCK YES” when Jesse James scored his second score on Saturday was, “Penn State covered!”
So, I think I have a pretty good idea of how spreads are made for various ballgames. For the life of me, though, I can’t explain how Vegas came up with the -3.5 this one opened at. By any explanation I can think of, this spread should be in the 6-7 range, but it opened there and hasn’t moved.
Of course, Penn State beat a spread by 31.5 points last year (+24.5 against Wisconsin), so they are incredibly variant in the grand scheme of things. But I don’t think Rutgers has much of a chance in this one — Penn Staters are going to mollify its home field advantage, the Lions are a far superior team through two games, and we have a litttttle momentum.
Some hilarity accompanies that second point: FCS Howard, yes, Howard, which couldn’t even think of an original logo, rushed for 259 (!!!) yards against the Scarlet Knights last week en route to an only 13-point loss. People have mentioned that the weather might throw off Hackenberg, so why not get that running game going? More on Howard — there was nothing Rutgers did significantly better than the team Akron beat 41-0 except get less penalties.
It’s going to be a sweet environment for Penn State to roll over Rutgers in. Can’t wait.
Doug Leeson (season record: 0-0) Penn State 35, Rutgers 20
The way this week has gone, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a larger margin of victory. I think our team realizes what this game means to our school, and it will bring a whole new level of focus to High Point Solutions Stadium (really cool name, guys.) Keep in mind that Penn State held Akron to three points while losing the turnover battle 3-0, which should have been remedied in practice this week. Expect Rutgers to be super aggressive on defense, trying to prove they can hang in the Big Ten, and consequently expect Hackenberg to approach, maybe surpass, his single game passing record. To be fair to Rutgers, running back Paul James is a big time player, and might give defensive coordinator Bob Shoop trouble. This game could prove to be Penn State’s biggest challenge so far this season, but I also think the Nittany Lions will play a complete game and dominate. The Scarlet Knights might get off to a hot start, but don’t expect this rivalry* game to stay close for very long.
Browsing through pro-Rutgers media (beginning and ending with their Yik Yak page) showed me that their team should have a chance this weekend based on home field advantage and motivation. Yeah, right. This game isn’t at Michigan, it isn’t at Ohio State, and it isn’t at Wisconsin… it’s in New Jersey. I’m not saying Rutgers fans won’t outnumber Penn State fans, but it won’t be as drastic as they expect. And as far as motivation goes, I would be willing to bet our sanction-less Nittany Lions want more than anything to give Rutgers the worst possible welcome to the Big Ten.
At the end of the day, this game should prove to be a fun opportunity for Penn State to flex their muscles of both sides of the ball, and remind the nation that we’re back.
*If you ask Rutgers fans, then yeah apparently we’re rivals
Ben Berkman (season record: 1-1) Penn State: 27, Rutgers: 14
Through two weeks, Christian Hackenberg has the nation’s fourth most passing yards. Against a Rutgers team that allowed 25 points to Howard – whom Akron blanked 41 – 0, I can’t see anything other than Hackenberg and his offense going for another big day. Rutgers is also ranked dead last in the Big Ten in total defense, so good luck to them.
Furthermore, Rutgers is already intimidated by the Nittany Lions; it can’t even address us by our name. The Scarlet Knight’s coach, Kyle Flood, refuses to refer to Penn State as Penn State – electing instead to call the Nittany Lions “the team from Pennsylvania.” Meanwhile, at Wednesday’s press conference, Franklin said he wanted to only talk about “Rutgers, Rutgers, Rutgers, Rutgers, and more Rutgers,” a not-too-hidden poke at that team from New Jersey.
Still, the Scarlet Knights are not a terrible football team. Gary Nova is the Big Ten’s most efficient quarterback, and through two games has thrown for six touchdowns and only one interception. He’ll be a challenge for the Nittany Lions secondary, but nothing more than an opportune tune-up before their schedule heats up. The Lions will roll to 3-0.
Mike Reisman (season record: 1-1) Penn State 24, Rutgers 17
Now, as you know, I love Rutgers more than just about every person at Penn State, but I can’t let that cloud my objectivity. Rutgers just isn’t a good team.
Now sure, if you define “good” as being 2-0 in close games against very weak teams, then yes, Rutgers is very “good.” But the fact is, Rutgers hasn’t been tested, and there’s no reason to think a team that barely got past Washington State will be able to beat a team with the energy that was injected into Penn State this week.
Don’t get me wrong, Rutgers has played well, but seriously, if you can’t beat Howard at home by more than 13, I don’t see how you can compete with a team like Penn State.
Especially because of the atmosphere, the game will be close for the majority of the game, similar to the Akron game, but just like last weekend’s contest, the Nittany Lions will pull away. Rutgers will probably score late, giving the illusion of a close game, but it won’t enough. It’s just hard to see a poor-at-best defense stopping Hackenberg and Co., and an average, run-based offense score very much on a tough Penn State defense.
Stephane Hardinger (season record: 0-0) Penn State 24, Rutgers 13
You’ve been beaten over the head with the rushing stats from Howard’s surprisingly close loss to Rutgers last week by now, so I’ll spare you the gory details. But I like the trio of Bill Belton, Akeel Lynch, and Zach Zwinak to combine for 2 rushing touchdowns on Saturday night. I don’t think Rutgers is all that much better than Akron, so I expect the game to follow a similar script: Penn State controls play against a clearly inferior team, said team stays in the game based on turnovers/miscues, Penn State puts said team away late. I think it’ll be a run-heavy attack from the offense, the defense will stifle Gary Nova and Paul James, and Hackenberg will do more than enough to pull out the win. It may not look (or smell) pretty, but Penn State will venture into the sweaty armpit of the Eastern Seaboard and win comfortably enough that we all laugh that this was published last week.
David Abruzzese (season record: 2-0) Penn State 31, Rutgers 17
The Nittany Lions roll into Piscataway this Saturday in what should be an offensive spectacle led by Christian Hackenberg and the Nittany Lions’ offense. Dae(Bae)Sean Hamilton steps into the national spotlight for the first time this season, and don’t expect him to disappoint. He has proved himself as a viable playmaker for the Nittany Lions, and should pose a big threat to the Scarlet Knights’ secondary. Bill Belton will show the Rutgers fan base what they’ve been missing out on this whole time with a solid performance toting the rock. Hackenberg is in for another big game, and expect him to come into this game with his gunslinger mentality, laying waste to the Scarlet Knights’ defense. The offensive line’s biggest challenge will be to shut down Rutgers defensive tackle Darius Hamilton, keeping him off Hackenberg. If they keep their streak of consistency going this weekend, expect the offense to rack up the yardage arcade style.
Defensively, shutting down Gary Nova will be priority number one, and expect defensive coordinator Bob Shoop to send plenty of pressure off the edges, keeping the Rutgers offensive line on their toes. Paul James is the Scarlet Knights’ feature back, and the bulk of the carries out of the backfield will go to him. If Mike Hull and the Nittany Lions front seven keep the intensity and ferocity they showed week one against UCF, James will have nowhere to run. Another matchup to watch will be the scorching hot Jordan Lucas against Scarlet Knights’ wide receiver Leonte Carroo. Lucas has been a force to be reckoned with to begin the year, and Carroo showed a knack for the deep ball against Washington State. Watching these two go at it should be entertaining as the game progresses. If Gary Nova is held in check, this game could get ugly early, as he is the lifeblood of the Scarlet Knights’ offensive scheme.
This atmosphere will be loud, but nothing the Nittany Lions haven’t heard before. Expect the Penn State offense to fire on all cylinders and put points on the board early on, forcing Gary Nova to keep his squad in the game. Big Ten football is back, and the Scarlet Knights are about to learn that this isn’t the AAC anymore.
Noel Purcell (season record: 1-0) Penn State 49, Rutgers 6
I’ve never been to Hell, but I’ve been to Piscataway, so I have an idea of where I’m going when I die. Big Ten Powerhouse Rutgers, a sarcastic term Onward State alum Bill DiFilippo has coined, sucks total shit. Gary Nova has been playing far above his pay grade, he is not anywhere near this good. Everyone knows Howard ran over Rutgers like they had the Hounds of Hell in the backfield, and even with our JV-level offensive line (sorry boys, you’ll get better with time), we should be able to have the two-way attack we’ve been seeking all season. Everyone is way more worried about this game than they should be. It’s going to be a beautiful ass-kicking fiesta.