Penn State Shuts Out Rutgers 28-0 On Senior Day
Penn State football (7-4, 4-4 Big Ten) took down Rutgers (5-6, 2-6 Big Ten) 28-0 Saturday afternoon at Beaver Stadium on Senior Day.
After tallying just one first down in the first quarter, an injured Sean Clifford entered the locker room as James Franklin turned to newly named second-string quarterback Christian Veilleux to assume the reigns under center.
The poised Canadian showed no signs of unpreparedness, completing 15-of-24 passes for 235 yards and three touchdowns in just three quarters of action. On defense, Brent Pry’s unit pulled together its second shutout of the season, sparked by a red zone fumble caused by Arnold Ebiketie.
How It Happened
Rutgers won the coin toss and elected to defer its choice of possession until the second half, giving the Nittany Lions the opening drive on Senior Day.
The Scarlet Knights booted the matchup’s opening kickoff out of bounds, giving Mike Yurcich’s offense favorable starting field position at the 40-yard line. After a six-yard Sean Clifford completion over the middle to Theo Johnson on first down, the Nittany Lions stalled their next two plays, resulting in a three and out to start the game.
Jordan Stout pinned the Scarlet Knights inside their own 20-yard line, giving Greg Schiano’s offense its first series within the teeth of the student section. In three plays, the Rutgers attack chalked up one yard on a screen blown up by Brandon Smith, resulting in the Nittany Lions taking over at their own 41.
Keyvone Lee jumpstarted the Penn State offense on its second showing of the matchup with a 17-yard reception on a slip screen, moving Yurcich’s unit past midfield. Shortly ensuing the gain, Clifford threw three straight incompletions, killing Nittany Lions’ early momentum. Once again, Jordan Stout took charge of the field position battle by downing Rutgers at the Penn State three-yard line, an area where Brent Pry’s pass rush has thrived in all season.
Without much confidence in quarterback Noah Vedral, play caller Sean Gleeson drew up three straight rushes, including two quarterback keepers, resulting in a total of five yards from scrimmage. Jonathan Sutherland cleaned up the series with a timely hit on Vedral, resulting in yet another three play possession.
Clifford and company stalled once again on its third opportunity of the game, but Penn State’s stout defensive line, courtesy of a Derrick Tangelo tackle for loss, picked up the slack by forcing another Rutgers punt. With six punts in the game’s opening 10 minutes, both punters proved to be crucial in what became an early field position struggle.
In a common theme, Penn State’s next possession ended with another punt after a short, three-play stint. After a quarterback draw set up 3rd and 6, Clifford was shaken up following a scramble upended by Aaron Lewis. The hit sent the veteran signal caller into the injury tent, a spot Clifford has become all too familiar with since his removal in the second quarter during midseason action in Iowa City.
Towards the end of the first quarter, the Rutgers offense finally found its footing, and made its way out of the shadow of its own end zone courtesy of a pass interference penalty called on Joey Porter, Jr. The call began a spree of flags thrown at the Nittany Lions’ expense, including a late hit on Ji’Ayir Brown and an ensuing offsides penalty on Brandon Smith, bringing Rutgers up to midfield.
From there, freshman Kalen King took care of business by ending Rutgers’ set of downs with a hit and a pass defended on 1st and 2nd down, respectively. After no gain on 3rd down, the Scarlet Knights downed the Nittany Lions at their own 12-yard line, where freshman quarterback Christian Veilleux would see his first semblance of meaningful action.
Veilleux’s command brought life to Yurcich’s group, as the freshman quarterback immediately picked up a 1st down with a smooth 14-yard scramble. The following play, Veilleux delivered a confident 15-yard strike to seemingly pump the first signs of momentum into Penn State’s offense. But, the product of two-straight first downs transformed into another punt, following a fumble on a 3rd-down snap by the young gunslinger.
Both offenses began to shake off the slow start, as Rutgers trotted back onto the field and put together an 8 play, 28 yard drive expending nearly four minutes off the game clock. Although highlighted by a 18-yard connection from Vedral to Victor Konopka, the drive once again concluded with a Rutgers punt, setting up Veilleux’s second series.
During his second possession at the helm, Veilleux once again tried to create positive yardage sequences with his legs. After a serviceable scramble setting up 2nd and 5, he attempted to deliver the first deep ball of his young career, but overthrew a go-route intended for Cam Sullivan-Brown at the Rutgers’ 30-yard line. On 3rd down, Veilleux once again tried to move the chains on a keeper, but was stopped short of the line to gain.
Following another mundane three and out for the Scarlet Knights highlighted by a forced fumble out of bounds by Coziah Izzard, the Penn State offense returned back to command. After a much-anticipated wait, a combination of fortunate calls and an established rushing attack finally propelled James Franklin’s bunch into enemy territory.
Three-straight runs, including two carries for 17 yards credited to Noah Cain, set up the first installment of the Christian Veilleux arm talent show after crossing the 50-yard line. The poised freshman went 3-for-3 for 34 yards on the drive, capped off by an accurate eight-yard touchdown strike on the far sideline hauled in by Jahan Dotson.
Dotson’s 10th touchdown of the season with 1:03 remaining in the opening half carried the Nittany Lions into the locker room with a narrow 7-0 advantage, with the Scarlet Knights set to take over after the break.
The Nittany Lion defense picked up right where it left off on the first possession of the second half. On three plays, the group forced the Rutgers offense to negative six yards of production, turning the ball right back to Penn State’s attack.
After picking up an initial first down through Keyvone Lee on the ground, Veilleux’s arm was unable to generate a second movement of the chains following an incompletion intended for Parker Washington on 3rd and manageable. An abnormal 41-yard misfire from Jordan Stout pushed Rutgers to its own 33-yard line.
Similarly to its first possession of the half, Rutgers was unable to conjure any kind of momentum, resulting in a punt after a five-play sequence. Ensuing a short sequence on the sideline, Veilleux returned to action and immediately made his presence felt by completing a 30-yard pass to Dotson, setting the Nittany Lions up in prime position at midfield.
Two plays later, the Canadian completed a 13-yard screen to Washington, giving Penn State another set of downs in opposing territory. Two incompletions forced the drive to close shop at the Rutgers’ 30, resulting in Stout’s sixth punt inside the 20-yard line.
The struggles for the Scarlet Knights offense continued to mount, as the squad’s next possession lasted just three plays, for a measly duration of 1:22. Then, Veilleux commanded his most complete drive of the day. Three rushes of 17 yards allowed the Nittany Lions to take shots down the field, and the Ontario native did just that.
An eight-yard, 1st down completion to Tyler Warren allowed Yurcich to dial up a deep ball for Veilleux on the next play, and he delivered. On the Rutgers 17, Veilleux lofted a beautiful ball, allowing Washington to position himself in front of the opposing corner for the second Nittany Lion touchdown of the day, extending the lead to a 14-0 clip.
An electrified Beaver Stadium crowd propelled Pry’s defensive unit to a four play, 11-yard stop, handing the ball back to the confident freshman behind center. After assuming position at the Nittany Lions’ own 30, Veilleux pulled together his third scoring drive of the day in just 42 seconds. Rolling out to his right, the underclassman delivered a bullet to fellow Canadian Malick Meiga, who took the deep route 67 yards for team’s third touchdown of the afternoon, extending the margin to 21-0.
While the third touchdown pass almost certainly put the game out of reach for Rutgers entering the fourth quarter, Vedral’s leadership didn’t waver. The two-time transfer completed passes of 11 and 34 yards, moving the Scarlet Knights down to the Nittany Lions’ 15. As the red zone defense has all season, it held the visitors to zero points on a 4th-down forced fumble by Arnold Ebiketie, giving possession back to the offense.
In methodical fashion, Penn State continued to pour it on by embarking on a 16 play, 85 yard scoring drive. After two consecutive incompletions, Veilleux found his footing and finished the possession 3-for-5, including a 29-yard jump ball brought down by Tyler Warren. Finally, Keyvone Lee took an outside counter seven yards for the team’s fourth touchdown of the day, bringing the lead to a 28-0 mark.
Rutgers relieved Vedral of his daily duties with just over seven minutes left on the game clock, but were unable to find any improvement with Gavin Wimsatt under center. On just his third play, Wimsatt tossed an interception to Jonathan Sutherland, who set the Nittany Lions up in plus territory yet again in the second half.
Mason Stahl took over for Veilleux late in fourth quarter, and pulled together a 9 play, 35 yard drive with just 29 seconds remaining on Senior Day. With that, the Scarlet Knights took the final knee, concluding the 28-0 shutout in Penn State’s final home stand of the campaign.
- Christian Veilleux could be the future at quarterback, folks. The last time No. 9 took over for No. 14 behind center, the Trace McSorley era was born on New Year’s Day in 2016. In relief of Clifford for the last three quarters, the poised 19-year-old went 15-for-24 through the air, for 235 yards, and 3 touchdowns. Additionally, the Canadian was the first Nittany Lion true-freshman to throw a touchdown pass since Christian Hackenberg in 2013. With Sean Clifford’s future as a potential fourth-year starter hanging in the balance along with five-star Drew Allar’s impending enrollment in Happy Valley, Franklin might have a legitimate quarterback controversy on his hands entering the offseason.
- Jordan Stout is a legitimate weapon on special teams. The Ray Guy Award semifinalist pinned Rutgers inside the 20-yard line six times, and seemingly flipped the field possession after possession for the Nittany Lion defense. Additionally, with two boots of over 50 yards, Stout amassed an average of over 40-yards-per-punt for the 11th time this season.
- For the second time in conference play, the Nittany Lions pitched a shutout performance on defense. Jaquan Brisker led the way with seven tackles and one pass breakup, while Ebiketie once again forced a clutch fumble in the red zone, paving the way for another contest with zero-points allowed. While the offense has certainly had its fair-share of inconsistencies in 2021, the defense has proven to be one of the most disruptive forces in the country throughout the campaign with stout short-yardage play.
Penn State will close out its regular season next Saturday on the road against Michigan State. Kickoff from East Lansing will either begin at 3:30 p.m. on ABC or ESPN, or 4 p.m. on FOX.
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