Previewing The Enemy: Rutgers Scarlet Knights
No. 14 Penn State (7-3, 4-3 Big Ten) will travel to Piscataway to take on Rutgers (1-9, 0-7 Big Ten) this Saturday. The Scarlet Knights haven’t been the most impressive team in the conference this season, but their fans will try to will them to victory over the Nittany Lions.
The disdain Rutgers fans have for Penn State even manifested itself in the greatest tweet of all time.
There’s a lot of hate from the Rutgers fanbase toward Penn State — exemplified in “Beat Ped State” shirts and constant “Fuck Penn State” chants. Rutgers’ athletic director even made a joke about the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
On paper, though, the Nittany Lions shouldn’t have much to worry about.
Chris Ash’s program has seemingly taken a step backwards this season. Rutgers went 4-8 in 2017, managing to go 3-1 against teams ranked outside of the top 100 of Bill Connelly’s S&P rankings and tacking on an upset of Purdue. The Scarlet Knights took down Texas State to open the season, before getting blown out by both Kansas and Buffalo in their non-conference slate.
Rutgers kept it close against Indiana and Northwestern, losing by a combined 10 points in those contests. The real problem has been the offense, which is currently ranked No. 127 out of 129 FBS teams in total yards per game.
Freshman quarterback Artur Sitkowski leads the Rutgers offense. The young starter is a pocket passer with a 6’5″ frame and powerful arm. Sitkowski has an astounding four touchdown to 16 interception ratio this season. The Old Bridge, New Jersey native is also averaging just 4.29 yards per pass attempt, which provides insight into the team’s offensive struggles. Against Maryland, for example, Sitkowski threw for zero touchdowns and four interceptions, tallying a passer rating of -33.3 on the day.
In the backfield, Raheem Blackshear has been taking most of the carries. The 5’9″ sophomore from Pennsylvania has run the ball 111 times for 478 yards and two scores. The back is dangerous catching the ball out of the backfield, too, as he leads the team with 40 receptions and 332 receiving yards.
Given Sitkowski’s lack of success, you could’ve probably guessed that the Rutgers receivers haven’t been particularly successful, either. Bo Melton is second on Chris Ash’s team with 25 receptions this season, although he’s only put up 216 yards. Jerome Washington, a senior tight end, has just eleven receptions but seems to consistently be a big-play target — he’s averaging 18.4 yards per reception.
The offensive line hasn’t been particularly effective in the ground game, as the rushing offense has mustered just 131 yards per game — good enough for No. 109 in the FBS. The unit has done a solid job of protecting Sitkowski, though, allowing opponents to sack the freshman just 12 times.
Rutgers’ defense has been better than its offense, although that’s really not saying much. The group allows 418.6 yards per game and 34.3 points per game, putting its scoring defense at No. 105 in the nation.
Trevor Morris and Deonte Roberts lead the defense from the linebacking corps. The two seniors are first and second, respectively, in total tackles with 87 and 71. The two have combined for seven tackles for loss and Morris has 1.5 sacks to his name.
Defensive linemen Jon Bateky, Mike Tverdov, and Elorm Lumor each have three sacks on the season, showing an ability to get after the opposing quarterback. Kevin Wilkins doesn’t have any sacks, but he’s been effective nonetheless with 44 tackles this season to lead the defensive linemen.
As a unit, the front seven gives up more than 230 yards per game which is — you guessed it — nearly as bad as it gets in FBS play. The secondary, on the other hand, has actually been pretty solid, giving up just 188 yards per game.
Damon Hayes is one of the leaders of the defensive backs. The junior safety has 49 total tackles, one sack, and two interceptions. Senior cornerback Isaiah Wharton has had another strong season, tallying four tackles for loss and 50 total tackles on top of an interception. Perhaps the most impressive back of the group, however, has been Saquan Hampton. Hampton not only has 55 tackles and two interceptions, but he has defended ten passes this season.
If the strength of the Rutgers program lies anywhere, it’s in the secondary. McSorley may have his work cut out for him through the air, but all signs point toward Miles Sanders having a big game on the ground. The Scarlet Knights would need to pull off something miraculous to avoid another Penn State takeover in New Jersey.
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