What you need to know: No. 16 Penn State vs. Rutgers
UNIVERSITY PARK — Each week, we’ll tell you what to expect, what to keep an eye on, and where and when you can catch the Nittany Lions on fall Saturdays this season.
Game details: vs. Rutgers, noon kickoff, broadcast on BTN.
Records: Penn State 7-2, 4-2 Big Ten, Rutgers 4-5, 3-3 Big Ten.
Venue: Beaver Stadium, where the Nittany Lions have won their last 12 games.
Weather forecast (via AccuWeather): High of 36 degrees, cold with sun and some clouds.
Overview: So here it is, the possible letdown game for the Nittany Lions. They’re a 31-point favorite on Homecoming Weekend, against an opponent they haven’t lost to since 1988. Penn State can (and should) win its last three games, getting to 10 wins and a nice bowl bid. To do that, the Lions have to forget about the last two weeks — or use the losses as motivation — to stifle a Rutgers team that’s threatening to become respectable. The Scarlet Knights have three conference wins and can qualify for a bowl by winning two of their final three games; they play Indiana and Michigan State the final two weeks.
The line: Penn State –31.
All-time series: Penn State leads 25-2, starting in 1918.
Last time they met (2016): The Nittany Lions clocked the Scarlet Knights 39-0 at High Point Solutions Stadium in Piscataway.
Penn State wins if: The Nittany Lions locate their running game. Granted, Penn State can probably win by throwing the ball 50 times and having a marginally successful rushing attack, but getting Saquon Barkley going will greatly help. The same is true for Trace McSorley. After a mid-week practice last week, James Franklin said that when McSorley has factored into the Lions’ running game early, it puts the defense on its heels and can be frustrating for opposing defensive coordinators and players. Against Michigan State, McSorley was the team’s leading rusher at halftime with 1 yard. Replicate that against Rutgers, and chances are the score will be much closer than it should be.
Rutgers wins if: Penn State allows it to happen. Even if Rutgers plays a so-called perfect game, it shouldn’t matter, as long as the Lions play even somewhat decent. The talent disparity and this game being played at Beaver Stadium should counteract anything the Scarlet Knights do to disrupt the Lions.
Count on: Penn State’s defense forcing at least one turnover. The Nittany Lions boast an impressive +12 turnover margin — the Scarlet Knights are even at 0 — with Penn State forcing at least one turnover in 10 straight games. It’s the longest streak for the program since 10 straight games in 2011.
Keep an eye on: Tommy Stevens. Penn State’s do-it-all quarterback hasn’t made an impact the last few games, with Franklin saying at Tuesday’s press conference that Stevens has been great at preparing during the week, but the in-game situations just haven’t warranted calling Stevens’ number. That should change Saturday, when the Lions should be playing from ahead most of the game.
Trivia tidbit: Barkley needs only 136 rushing yards for his third consecutive 1,000-yard season.
Saquon Barkley record watch: Barkley now stands second all-time at Penn State with 3,426 yards. Against Michigan State, the junior passed Curt Warner (3,398).
*Season record: 8-1.
*Season record against the spread: 5-4.
Prediction: Penn State 48, Rutgers 21.
*HappyValley season predictions