Penn State Escapes Rutgers With A 13-10 Victory
And the long streak of dominance against Rutgers continues! Thanks to some late game heroics from Christian Hackenberg, Bill Belton, and Geno Lewis, Penn State moved to 3-0 on the season — and 23-2 all time — with a 13-10 win over the Scarlet Knights.
It’s still hard to believe that Penn State didn’t lose this game.
The offensive line played perhaps the worst game of the season. The special teams had both a punt and field goal blocked. The running game never seemed to get going. Christian Hackenberg punted the ball once, and it went a grand total of five (!!) yards. Yet none of that ultimately mattered on Saturday night, because Hackenberg and Co. produced a game-winning drive for the second time this season to down the Scarlet Knights 13-10 in Piscataway.
When looking back at this win, it’ll be hard not to give all the credit to the Penn State defense. Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova had an absolutely brutal evening, throwing five interceptions and going 15-30 with 192 yards. Nova was also sacked three times and never seemed get into a comfort zone when passing the ball. If there was one strength to Rutger’s offense tonight, however, it was the running game. Running backs Paul James and Desmon Peoples, in addition to Nova, combined for 126 yards on 31 carries.
Rutgers got on the board first thanks to a ten play, 80 yard drive that culminated in a 14 yard touchdown run by Nova with 11:32 left in the second quarter. It was only the second touchdown run of his career.
The Penn State offense, on the other hand, was non-existent in the first half. A rattled Hackenberg was sacked twice in the first two quarters and was 9-17 with 79 yards going into halftime. On the ground, Penn State could only muster 25 yards on 15 carries between Hackenberg, a backwards pass to DaeSean Hamilton, and Bill Belton.
Rutgers tacked on a field goal to increase its lead to 10-0 just before half.
The Penn State offense was once again slow out of the gate to start the third quarter, as a Hackenberg interception that deflected off the hands of Jesse James killed a drive that reached the Rutgers’ 33 yard line. Luckily, Nova tested the Penn State secondary on the very next play and was immediately picked off by Trevor Williams. It was Williams’ second interception of the evening and very much a turning point in the game.
The Penn State offense finally capitalized on the following possession, orchestrating a 72 yard drive that ended with a 32-yard Sam Ficken field goal. After a three-and-out by Rutgers, Penn State once again drove down the field to tack on another field goal to cut Rutgers’ lead to 10-6 with 13 minutes left in the fourth quarter. DaeSean Hamilton was the star of the drive, as his 47-yard catch and run on the drive put Penn State in field goal range. Hackenberg relied on the sure hands of both Hamilton and Lewis throughout the game; Hamilton caught eight passes for 103 yards while Lewis hauled in six passes for 109 yards.
“I’m confident in [Hackenberg] and everything he does,” said Lewis after the game. “I’m just glad to have him as my quarterback.”
With the fourth quarter winding down, both teams’ offenses stalled on their respective drives. Linebacker Brandon Bell picked off Nova with nine minutes left in the game, but the following Nittany Lion drive ended in a disastrous five yard punt for Hackenberg. However, Penn State was able to hold Rutgers on their next possession to set the stage for Hackenberg and the offense with 3:02 left.
Hackenberg found Lewis for catches of 53 yards and 23 yards to put Penn State on the Rutgers six yard line with under two minutes left. Just two plays later, Belton finished off the drive with a five-yard touchdown run up the middle to give Penn State the 13-10 lead with 1:13 left. Ultimately, it was all the Nittany Lions needed. Nova was picked off for the fifth time on the following drive by Ryan Keiser, and Penn State escaped Rutgers with its first Big Ten win of the season.
Despite his poor start, Hackenberg finished 25-44 for 309 yards and made several incredible throws on the final drive, including the 23-yard pass to Lewis on 3rd-and-12 to keep the drive alive. Hackenberg was also sacked five times and hurried eight times, which points to serious issues within the offensive line’s protection scheme, but the unit pulled it together on the final drive.
Player of the Game:
Player of the Game honors will go the entire Penn State defensive line this week. Take a look at these numbers:
- Anthony Zettel: 1 sack, 4 tackles, 3 TFL
- C.J. Olaniyan: 1 sack, 4 tackles, 1 TFL
- Deion Barnes: 1 sack, 2 tackles, 1 TFL
- Austin Johnson: 1 tackle
It’s easy to give all the credit to the secondary for picking off Nova five times, but the defensive line applied constant pressure all game and forced Nova into making mistakes. After a shaky first half, the group held Rutgers to 28 yards rushing in the second half and only 67 yards passing.
Cornerback Trevor Williams earns the honor this week. Williams struggled at times last year, and actually lost his starting spot halfway through the season. He came into the offseason with a good attitude, and with the help of defensive coordinator Bob Shoop and cornerbacks coach Terry Smith, he made huge strides in his game. Tonight’s game was the culmination of hard work.
What needs to improve:
This one is simple: the offensive line has to get better. Hackenberg won’t be able to survive a full season if he’s getting sacked five times per game and getting knocked over countless other times. In addition, Penn State will need better run blocking going forward if it wants to prevent the offense from becoming too one dimensional.
Quote of the Game:
Bill Belton, on the trash talking going on before the game: “They’ve been chirping all week in the media. I mean, they asked for a big time game, and they got one.”