Penn State made it two wins a row Saturday, riding a dominant defensive effort and a strong first half offensively to a 23-7 victory over Rutgers at SHI Stadium in Piscataway, N.J.
Here are some takes on the game:
The Penn State defense played its most dominating game of the season. The Nittany Lions were especially strong in the first half, holding the Scarlet Knights to 43 yards of total offense on only 25 plays. They also stopped a pair of fourth-down conversion tries in Rutgers territory, both of which led to 45-yard touchdown drives for the Lions. Linebackers Ellis Brooks and Jesse Luketa led the defensive charge, and collaborated on a forced fumble in the third quarter that the Lions recovered at the Rutgers 39 and led to a field goal.
With the offense dormant in the second half, the defense was called upon time and again. It was still a two-score game when Noah Vedral tried a quarterback draw on fourth-and-6 and gained only three before the Penn State defense collapsed on him. Penn State gained possession with 5 minutes, 7 seconds remaining. For the game, the Scarlet Knights were held to 205 total yards.
Running game rules again
One week after rushing for 134 yards and being named Big Ten freshman of the week, 230-pound Keyvone Lee had another solid performance, picking up 95 yards in 17 carries, part of a running game that ground out 248 yards on the day. Sophomore Devyn Ford, who missed last week’s game because of a death in his family, added 65 yards in 11 carries, and scored on a 7-yard run midway through the second quarter.
Lee was particularly impressive in the fourth quarter when a 62-yard Rutgers punt backed the Lions up to their own 2. Lee ran 31 yards down the left sideline on the second play, and wound up with 50 yards in seven carries on the drive, which led to a 27-yard field goal by Jake Pinegar. Backup quarterback Will Levis did not throw a pass, but his 65-yard rushing output on 17 carries also was a significant contribution.
Controlling the first half
Plagued by slow starts through their 0-5 start, the Nittany Lions showed a strong offense in the first half during which they outgained the Scarlet Knights, 229-43, and ran 44 offensive plays to 25 for the home team. After losing the ball on downs after a 17-play opening drive, the Lions held the ball for five plays (touchdown), 11 plays (field goal) and seven plays (touchdown) before a turnover and a three-and-out ended the half.
The rushing attack was strong, with 133 yards, led by 46 yards and a touchdown by Ford. The second half wasn’t quite as impressive — one field goal in each of the final two quarters — but the Lions drove from their own 2 to the Rutgers 9 in the fourth, chewing up almost five minutes of clock before Pinegar kicked a 27-yard field goal, his second of the game.
Offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca shuffled Sean Clifford and Will Levis at quarterback more than he has all season, and the combination worked. Clifford had another efficient game, completing 15-of-22 passes for 133 yards, including a 29-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter to Parker Washington. Levis came in for certain running situations and had success, gaining 65 yards in 17 carries but not attempting a pass.
There were a couple of times when the novelty of Levis as someone who was only running up the middle was wearing off, and the Scarlet Knights responded. But if the idea was for a change of pace, it worked.