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Penn State Plays Ugly, Still Beats Rutgers 27-6

Penn State looked flat at times. And lacked excitement. And struggled to get much of anything going during multiple stretches. But somehow, Rutgers managed to do everything just a bit worse, and the Nittany Lions were able to win 27-6 against the lowly Scarlet Knights at Beaver Stadium Saturday.

The win capped off the third 10-win season in four years for Penn State, which went undefeated at home for also the third time in four years. Will Levis and Journey Brown led the way for the Nittany Lions, with the former running for 108 yards and the latter tallying 103 yards as well as three touchdowns.

How It Happened

After Rutgers won the toss and deferred, Penn State got the ball to start the game. KJ Hamler seemed to set the tone early after rattling off a 23-yard return and getting the ball multiple times on the first drive to set the offense in motion downfield.

It appeared as if Penn State would have its way against Rutgers. Facing a fourth-and-three, the Nittany Lions even converted on a rush by quarterback Will Levis who started in place of the injured Sean Clifford. But they struggled to get much else going from then on.

The offense sputtered later on the drive and ended up punting from around midfield, which gave Rutgers the ball deep in its own territory. After the teams traded punts, the Scarlet Knights strung together a few plays to move the ball downfield with ease, including a big 39-yard completion from quarterback Johnny Langan to Aaron Young. Kicker Justin Davidovicz made a 29-yard field goal to give the Scarlet Knights an early 3-0 lead — their only lead of the day and one that wouldn’t last for long.

After a stagnant start to the game, the Nittany Lions found their stride on the ensuing possession by turning their focus to the running game. A drive that included runs of 14, 30, and 19 yards resulted in Journey Brown punching the ball in for a touchdown from two yards out just before the end of the quarter. Despite Penn State throwing the ball just once on the drive, the offense moved the ball 76 yards on nine plays to go up 7-0.

Most of the second quarter involved the teams trading punts until the Nittany Lions seemed to build some momentum (read: they crossed midfield) midway through the frame. With less than seven minutes to go and at the Rutgers 38, Levis took a deep shot to Daniel George, but ended up being picked off by Tre Avery at the two-yard line.

After getting the ball with their backs against their own end zone, the Scarlet Knights drove downfield at will against the uninspired Nittany Lion defense. A series of chunk runs by Langan and Isaih Pacheco moved the ball to just outside the red zone, setting up a 35-yard field goal attempt for Davidovicz. In perhaps the most fitting summary of an unexciting and all-around poorly-played first half, the attempt was unsuccessful, sending the teams to the locker room with the Nittany Lions leading 7-3.

Penn State came out of the break having seemingly solved their first-half woes. The defense forced a quick three-and-out, before the offense moved the ball toward the end zone in a hurry. Levis broke loose for a 49-yard run on the second play of the drive to move the ball deep into Rutgers territory just before Brown bullied his way into the end zone on an 18-yard rush. Jake Pinegar’s extra point however was off the mark, limiting the Nittany Lions’ lead to 13-3. And then it was back to the same lackluster quality of football that surely underwhelmed the “98,895” fans in attendance at Beaver Stadium.

After another pair of punts by each team, Rutgers strung together a decent drive that ended in a 36-yard field goal by Davidovicz that cut the Nittany Lions’ lead to 13-6. The Scarlet Knights moved 58 yards in about six minutes on the backs of Langan and Pacheco who ran for a combined 28 yards.

When Penn State got the ball back, the unit looked as stagnant as ever, leisurely moving across the 50-yard line. But the Nittany Lions eventually broke through with a 44-yard bomb from Levis to Jahan Dotson to break open the game to 20-6.

The play showcased an impressive display of poise moxie by Levis, who bobbled the snap and decided to go deep with the ball while on the run, finding a wide-open Dotson. The score was 12 yards longer than Levis’ passing total prior to the play.

From there, the Nittany Lions finally took control and held it for the rest of the game. They forced a three-and-out before extending their lead to the final 27-6 score on the ensuing drive.

Penn State rolled down the field with an eight-play, 44-yard drive that ended in another Journey Brown touchdown.

Brown led the way on the quick drive, running for 37 yards and the score. On the kickoff, Jordan Stout squibbed the ball through the Rutgers return team, leading to a recovery by the Nittany Lions at the Rutgers’ six-yard line. True freshman Ta’Quan Roberson entered at quarterback in place of Levis, but couldn’t get much going as the Nittany Lions moved two yards on four plays and took the turnover on downs.

Rutgers took over with three minutes to go and pushed the ball out to around midfield before the clock expired, putting the fans watching (and the 2-10 Scarlet Knights) out of their misery.

Takeaways

  • Unless his injury is more serious than James Franklin has let on, Sean Clifford is still the man at quarterback. Will Levis has been a serviceable replacement even provided a much-needed spark against the Buckeyes, but his inconsistencies as a passer far outweigh his hard-nosed running ability. That said, moving forward to the bowl game and next season, he’s more than proved that he deserves more snaps and plays specifically designed to get him into the game. Ricky Rahne should use Levis the same way he said he’d use Tommy Stevens and introduce more two-quarterback packages. The only issue will be getting Levis to stay, as he’d surely have plenty of run-focused suitors in the transfer portal. In another life, Will Levis leads Army to a series of upsets against top-ranked Power 5 teams.
  • One week after it muscled up for the challenge of facing Ohio State, Penn State’s secondary looked like as much of a liability as ever. Johnny Langan, who entered today having thrown four touchdowns and nine interceptions, had little issue throwing the ball against the Nittany Lions.
  • Journey Brown once again led the way for Penn State on the ground. His three touchdowns were one of the only bright spots on the day and saved the Nittany Lions from making this game look any closer.

What’s Next

Penn State will be off next weekend while a handful of other teams play in their conferences’ championship games. The Nittany Lions will await their bowl destination, which will be announced Sunday, December 8.

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About the Author

Anthony Colucci

Anthony Colucci is Onward State’s managing editor, a preferred walk-on honors student, and a senior majoring in psychology and public relations. Despite being from the make-believe land of Central Jersey, he was never a Rutgers fan. If you ever want to know how good Saquon Barkley's ball security is, ask Anthony what happened when he tried to force a fumble at the Mifflin Streak. If you want to hear the story or are bored and want to share prequel memes, follow @_anthonycolucci on Twitter or email him at [email protected] All other requests and complaints should be directed to Onward State media contact emeritus Steve Connelly.

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