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Three takeaways from Penn State’s 27-6 victory over Rutgers

The Nittany Lions got off to a horrendous start in the first quarter, actually trailing the Scarlet Knights. But they picked up their play in the second half to finish the regular season 10-2.

Penn State running back Journey Brown stiff arms Rutgers defensive back Christian Izien in the first quarter.
Penn State running back Journey Brown stiff arms Rutgers defensive back Christian Izien in the first quarter.Read moreBarry Reeger / AP

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – The Nittany Lions played a difficult schedule in October and November, with five games against ranked teams, including last week’s loss at No. 2 Ohio State. They were supposed to have a breather Saturday against Rutgers, but they came out looking tired, distracted and unfocused, far from a team that entered the game with a 9-2 record and a legitimate shot at a New Year’s 6 bowl.

Here are three takeaways from Penn State’s victory Saturday at Beaver Stadium.

Penn State’s lethargy

Penn State allowed 243 total yards to the Scarlet Knights in the first half, only 12 fewer than Ohio State gained against them. They also became the first team to trail Rutgers in a Big Ten game when the Scarlet Knights kicked a field goal late in the first quarter. The Nittany Lions came out in the second half and got a three-and-out defensively and scored on their first possession offensively, but the game was uncomfortable for Penn State fans until two fourth-quarter touchdowns. So style points weren’t high, but all the Lions wanted was to get to 10-2, and they did, keeping their New Year’s 6 bowl hopes alive.

Levis’ first start

With first-team quarterback Sean Clifford not dressed for the game because of some nagging injuries, redshirt freshman Will Levis made his first collegiate start and showed some moxie running the football, finishing with 108 yards on 17 carries with a long dash of 49 yards. As he showed against Ohio State, the 6-foot-3, 229-pound Levis ran with no regard for his own body, smashing into linebackers with abandon and gutting out a pair of first downs on fourth-down calls. Through the air, Levis completed 6 of his first 12 passes for 32 yards before finding Jahan Dotson deep for a 44-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter. He also threw one interception, a 50-50 ball to the goal line in which 5-foot-10 defensive back Tre Avery outfought Penn State’s 6-2 Daniel George for the pick. Penn State also had a 100-yard rusher in Journey Brown, who gained 103 yards in 16 carries with three TDs.

Defense established itself

After a poor first half, the Nittany Lions defense toughened up in the second half, limiting the Scarlet Knights to just 140 total yards and Rutgers’ second field goal of the game, a 38-yarder by Justin Davidowicz, in the final two periods. Rutgers did a good job on the ground, rushing for 184 yards, with sophomore Isaih Pacheco (Vineland High) picking up 102 yards on 18 carries. After Levis’ touchdown pass to Dotson early in the fourth made it 20-6, the defense got a stop on fourth down at the Rutgers 44, leading to the clinching scoring run by Brown. Linebacker Micah Parsons led the team with 10 tackles and had one of the Lions’ three sacks.