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Takeaways: Penn State Chops Rutgers

We did it, folks. We #chopped Rutgers.

It was a brutally long and horribly painful game to watch, but the Nittany Lions came out on top 13-10 after falling behind by ten points in the first half. Penn State looked to be down for the count in the fourth quarter but pulled off the type of gutsy victory that has defined this team over the last two-plus seasons.

With #RutgersHateWeek behind us and the game officially in the books, it’s now time to take a look at what this game means in the big picture for an undefeated Nittany Lions football team:

The offensive line a serious problem and it isn’t getting better.

Penn State has played three football games, and the offensive line has struggled for three football games. After losing key contributors like John Urschel and Miles Dieffenbach, the line isn’t clicking this season and it has hurt the run game (statistically) and Christian Hackenberg (physically). The Nittany Lions sophomore quarterback spent most of the game on the ground or scrambling as the line failed to hold a solid pocket and consistently let pressure get to Hackenberg.

He was sacked five times and ran the ball 12 times, second only to Bill Belton’s 15 carries. To be clear, we aren’t talking about Johnny “Football” Manziel. We’re talking about Christian Hackenberg, who is pretty much the definition of a pocket passer. That’s not to say that he isn’t athletic, but Hackenberg does his best work when he has time to throw and wait for the play to develop.

The line’s play isn’t helping the other facet of the Penn State offense, either. The run game is still virtually nonexistent through 12 quarters. The team rushed for 91 yards on 30 attempts, good for just over three yards a carry. If you take out the yardage lost on sacks, the squad netted just 64 yards on the ground.

If the line doesn’t get better, keep assignments, and succeed in its blocking schemes, the Big Ten schedule isn’t going to be kind to be kind to this offense or Hackenberg’s body.

The defense, on the other hand, was Penn State’s strong point.

To be clear, it helps that the quarterback on the other side of the line of scrimmage has a history of meltdowns like the one in Saturday’s game. But Nova is a four-year starter for a reason, as he is capable of playing good football, so it’s impressive that the defense held him to his worst career game, or at the very least it was damn close to it.

Nova completed just half of his 30 pass attempts for 192 yards, no touchdowns, and five — count ’em — five interceptions. Trevor Williams snagged two with Ryan Keiser, Adrian Amos, and Brandon Bell picking off numbers three, four, and five.

The line sacked Nova three times, and on top of all that, the run-stop was strong. Rutgers rushed 31 times for 102 yards and one score, a 3.3 yards per carry average. Rutgers doesn’t have a high-octane offense, but the team put up 41 and 38 points in its first two games, so holding the Scarlet Knights to just 10 points is no small feat.

Bill Belton may have run in the game-winning score, but there’s no doubt that the defense won this game for a Penn State team that had an anemic offense for most of the matchup. The defense doesn’t have very many standouts like the Linebacker U teams of the past, but its an all-around solid unit from the secondary to the backers to the line with no real weak point for opponents to capitalize on.

It was ugly, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a learning experience.

After ugly turnover-ridden games, sometimes you hear coaches say that they prefer to just throw out what happened and forget about it. That shouldn’t the case with this one. If you dig through all of the rough spots, there are a few diamonds in the rough that Penn State can build on.

There’s the beautifully executed two-minute drive featuring a pair of big hookups between Hackenberg and Geno Lewis. There’s the team’s absolute hounding of Gary Nova for 60 minutes. There are Ficken’s two field goals and the third he would have had if it wasn’t blocked. There was some very positive play from Hackenberg when he wasn’t under pressure as he threw for a Penn State-record seventh 300-yard game. There was DaeSean Hamilton and Geno Lewis each surpassing 100 receiving yards as they continue to prove that there is life after Allen Robinson.

Yeah, it may not have gone 100% according to plan, but because of sometimes-overlooked performances like these, it worked out alright for Penn State.

Rutgers has a long way to go before it fits in with the rest of the Big Ten. 

My fellow Onward Staters were in the press box, so they didn’t get to see the wrath of the Scarlet Knights’ student body. But on the field, the fans were terrible. Multiple “Fuck Penn State” chants rang through the stadium and the fans screamed at players and spit on people walking on the field. That’s just inside the stadium! It got even worse outside in the tailgating lots.

Traditionally, there’s always been a mutual respect between Big Ten fan bases. Yeah, you may not like the team, and yeah, we may give each other a good amount of shit during the week. But at the end of the day, we’re all B1G. Rutgers needs to learn that, and fast.

James Franklin is the man.

As my first and only piece of evidence, I submit a picture of him leading the Penn State fans in a “WE ARE” chant after the win.

Screen Shot 2014-09-13 at 11.45.10 PM

There were some ups and there were mostly downs, but in the end the Nittany Lions won the game and made it to 3-0, making them one of only two Big Ten teams at that mark. Rutgers wasn’t the world’s most formidable opponent, but the team and fans treated this as a bowl game and made for a hostile environment with an insanely motivated Scarlet Knights squad. It wasn’t pretty, but it was a resilient win for Penn State.

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About the Author

Zach Berger

Zach Berger is a reporter and Onward State's Managing Editor Emeritus. You can find him at the Phyrst more nights than not. If he had to pick a last meal, Zach would go for a medium-rare New York strip steak with a side of garlic mashed potatoes and a cold BrewDog Punk IPA. You can reach him via e-mail at [email protected] or on Twitter at @theZachBerger.

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