Previewing The Enemy: No. 8 Penn State vs Rutgers
By: David Abruzzese and Ethan Kasales
The Lions head to Piscataway to face a 2-8 Rutgers team that hasn’t had much to be excited about. The Scarlet Knights are the first of two final roadblocks for the Lions as they keep their playoff hopes alive. Check out who to watch for as the Lions take on Rutgers.
Redshirt junior quarterback Chris Laviano leads a 2-8 Rutgers team that’s been mostly miserable for all of 2016. Part of the problem has been Laviano’s ability to consistently complete passes and move the chains. With a completion percentage slightly less than 50 percent, he’s split time with junior Giovanni Rescigno to muster only five touchdowns to two interceptions.
While the passing game struggles are evident, junior running back Robert Martin provides a glimmer of hope headlining a deep backfield. Martin and Justin Goodwin have combined for 958 yards but haven’t been able to find much success scoring-wise with only one touchdown between the two.
A struggling offensive line likely hasn’t helped much in the passing game, but receivers Jawuan Harris and Andre Patton have managed to produce with a total of eight touchdowns between the pair. Harris leads the team with 400 yards, and figures to match up against Grant Haley or John Reid. The Scarlet Knights should be no problem for a healthy Penn State defense, but words are meaningless when talking about Big Ten Football; Penn State simply needs to get the job done.
Rutgers has an interesting defense, to say the least. The Scarlet Knights are last in the Big Ten in rush defense, giving up an average of 251.3 yards per game on the ground. However, defensive coordinator Jay Niemann’s bunch is rather stout through the air, as it currently ranks fourth in the conference with only 193.2 yards allowed through 10 games. Rutgers has surrendered 20 passing touchdowns, though, so Trace McSorley and the Nittany Lion wideouts shouldn’t have much trouble finding the end zone.
The Scarlet Knight defense is led by a pair of sophomore linebackers in Trevor Morris and Deonte Roberts, who check in with 84 and 78 tackles, respectively — far and away the most on the team. Morris was actually high school teammates with redshirt freshman defensive end Ryan Buchholz at Malvern Prep. Senior tackle Darius Hamilton hasn’t been as productive rushing the passer this season (0.5 sacks) considering most teams zero in on him from the start. James Franklin even called him a “gamewrecker” on Wednesday, saying the Nittany Lions will need to focus on shutting him down first and foremost.
Penn State great and Jacksonville Jaguar Jared Odrick’s half brother Julian Pinnix-Odrick has turned in a solid senior season for the Scarlet Knights, recording a team-high 8.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. Senior strong safety Anthony Cioffi leads the defense with two interceptions, while corner Blessuan Austin boasts a whopping 13 pass breakups. An interesting thing to note about special teams: Rutgers has held its opponents to 6-of-14 on field goal attempts.