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Lions won't take Rutgers lightly

Penn State, winner of six straight games, enters Saturday night's game at Rutgers on a roll. The Scarlet Knights, losers of seven games in a row, do not.

Penn State, winner of six straight games, enters Saturday night's game at Rutgers on a roll. The Scarlet Knights, losers of seven games in a row, do not.

But Nittany Lions coach James Franklin said his team will not take Rutgers lightly in any way, and referenced history to show that anything can happen when the rivals from neighboring states meet even though the Lions hold a lopsided advantage.

"The series is 24-2," he said, "but in 1988 Penn State was ranked No 15 in the country and lost to Rutgers. So obviously we want to make sure we study our history so we don't repeat it.

"Recent history . . . we had a really tough game down at their place, an emotional game in a tough environment but found a way to get a win in 2014," a 13-10 victory in which Bill Belton scored the winning touchdown on a 5-yard run with 1 minute, 13 seconds to play.

Franklin knows there is an emotional component to the contest as well.

"The environment there was really tough for us two years ago," he said. "Then obviously there is a lot of familiarity between the programs. There are a lot of kids in their program that know our players and vice versa. We've got a lot of players on our team from the state of New Jersey.

"It's been a great state to Penn State for a long time. It will continue to be that. That factors into it as well."

'Bright future' for Charles

Franklin said that redshirt freshman Irvin Charles, who starred in high school football at Paul VI in South Jersey, is "maybe the most talented wide receiver I've ever been around" and predicts a "very, very bright future" for him.

The 6-foot-4, 219-pound Charles has caught just two passes this season but one went for an 80-yard touchdown against Minnesota that sparked the Lions' comeback from a 10-point halftime deficit and launched a winning streak that has reached six games.

"We all saw the catch that he had and what he was able to do with it once he got the ball in his hands," Franklin said. "But there's a lot more that goes into it than that. So we're looking for other ways to get the ball in his hands and give him a chance to make the play."

Charles returned his first kickoff of the season Saturday against Indiana, but he didn't handle the catch cleanly, and his return went for just 11 yards. Franklin conceded that chance for Charles to make a play "didn't go as planned," but he noted that he is proud of him.

"He's matured in so many ways since he's been here," the coach said. "We keep mentoring him and keep preparing him every day because we're excited about him."

Cheers for the holder

Third-string quarterback Billy Fessler, who took over as the holder for kicker Tyler Davis against Indiana, was named by the coaches as special teams player of the week.

Fessler, a redshirt sophomore, moved into the role after Chris Gulla, the regular holder, was left behind because of an undisclosed violation of team rules.

"Billy has been doing it all year long, so that helps," Franklin said. "The relationship between a snapper, a holder and a kicker - that chemistry and that relationship - is really, really important. People look at it as three separate things, but it really is a whole unit.

"Making a change there is not ideal, but Billy's so respected in our program. As a vet, my relationship with Billy is really good. I really have grown to love and respect the guy. He did a great job stepping in."