Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano had a frank observation this week about the idea of a rivalry with Penn State.
“As far as a rival goes, look, we’re not Penn State’s rival, and that’s clear,” Schiano said. “And the reason is, we haven’t given them a reason to make us their rival.”
The Nittany Lions are 28-2 all-time against the Scarlet Knights and have won the last 13 meetings heading into Saturday’s clash at SHI Stadium in Piscataway, N.J. In six Big Ten games, the Lions hold a 162-32 advantage, including last year’s 27-6 result at Beaver Stadium.
But this doesn’t appear to be like any other Penn State-Rutgers game of the recent past. One reason: The Scarlet Knights are 2-4, one win more than the Nittany Lions (1-5). Here’s a look at what to expect:
The Schiano boost
Schiano, who coached the Scarlet Knights for 11 seasons before leaving after 2011 to become head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, has made an impact since his return last December.
Rutgers is averaging 30.8 points, a 17.5-point increase from last season. Its total offense of 369.3 yards per game is a 26% hike. The Scarlet Knights are third in the Big Ten in red zone offense, scoring touchdowns on 66.7% of their 21 trips, as opposed to 44.0% for Penn State (11 of 25).
Special teams also are a strength. The Knights ranks in the top 20 of FBS in kickoff returns, punt returns and net punting, and have returned both a kickoff and a punt for a touchdown.
The Rutgers defense does not have the strong numbers of its offense, averaging 35.7 points and 430.5 total yards allowed, but it has claimed 13 takeaways.
Preparing for two (or three!) quarterbacks
Schiano has not announced who will start at quarterback. Starter Noah Vedral, who missed last week’s game with an undisclosed injury, could be ready. Backups Artur Sitkowski and Johnny Langan combined for 236 passing yards and three touchdowns in a 37-30 win over Purdue.
Sitkowski is more of a pocket passer while the 6-foot-3, 223-pound Langan is a runner who picked up 95 yards in 21 carries against the Boilermakers. Vedral is a dual-threat type.
Keeping up the attack
Penn State had arguably its best offensive game of the season last week in a 27-17 win at Michigan. The Nittany Lions went the entire contest without a turnover for the first time all year and rushed for a season-high 254 yards, led by 134 from freshman Keyvone Lee.
Sean Clifford had an efficient performance, throwing for 163 yards and running for 73 and a touchdown, and finding freshman Parker Washington for nine catches. He may have opportunities against a Rutgers secondary that allows 260 yards per game, next-to-last in the Big Ten.
This will be a scary game for Penn State against the hungry Scarlet Knights. The Nittany Lions offense should be able to move the ball and perhaps even reach the 30-point mark for the first time in regulation all season. Their defense needs to control the variety of quarterbacks who will be on the field for Rutgers, and special teams must neutralize their opponent’s return game.
Penn State 35, Rutgers 24