Penn State football: 5 fearless predictions about game vs. Rutgers
Who would have thought back in September that the Penn State vs. Rutgers game would be a strangely compelling matchup? While it may have been in past seasons for people who like to see trucks run over cans, this year should actually prove competitive.
Rutgers hasn’t defeated Penn State since 1988, strangely the first losing season for Joe Paterno, as now James Franklin looks to avoid that same fate (the losing to Rutgers part). The Scarlet Knights haven’t scored more than 10 points on the Lions since joining the Big Ten, but make no mistake, this game will not be the same type of developmental scrimmage it has been in past years for Penn State.
The Scarlet Knights have more wins than Penn State and are two weeks removed from an excruciating triple-overtime loss to Michigan. The teams may not be rivals, but this game could be decided close to the final whistle.
These are 5 fearless predictions about Penn State in its game against Rutgers:
1. Sean Clifford passes for at least 300 yards
Following his first mistake-free game of the season, Clifford is out of the doghouse. It took some time, but maybe the Kirk Ciarrocca offense is finally starting to settle in.
Parker Washington seems to be emerging as a consistent option for Clifford following his 9-catch game against Michigan, and Jahan Dotson still averages the 6th-most receiving yards per game (92.8) in the Big Ten, even after only having 30 yards against the Wolverines.
Rutgers’ pass defense allows more yards per game than everyone in the Big Ten other than Ohio State and has allowed greater than 300 passing yards in 3 games this season. Brendon White, a transfer from Ohio State, is one of the better defensive backs in the country, but the Rutgers pass rush is middle of the pack in terms of sacks, so Clifford should have enough time to locate open receivers.
2. Some combination of 225 rushing yards
There’s no telling which running backs will be available and what the rotation will be for Penn State — Devyn Ford missed last week due to a combination of injury and a family death — but the Lions’ ground attack has found another option in Keyvone Lee should Ford not be ready to go.
Lee just had Penn State’s first 100-yard game of the season from a running back, contributing to the Lions’ best overall rushing performance of the season (254 yards). With Clifford now back in the saddle as the established QB, he’s always good for somewhere near 50 yards rushing.
Penn State has used the Will Levis package a half dozen times this season, including four plays against Michigan. Expect Penn State to continue to deploy him for short-yardage and goal-line situations.
Ohio State and Illinois both rushed for over 200 yards against Rutgers. Penn State will be the third.
3. Penn State allows a special teams TD
Did you see the return from Aron Cruickshank last week?
The last time he did this, it was the 2020 @rosebowlgame.
Former Badger Aron Cruickshank houses the kick to make it a three-point game.@Ac_Hollywood_ | @Rfootball pic.twitter.com/2tzTHZ0SYR
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) November 28, 2020
The Wisconsin transfer did similar work in 2019 for the Badgers, returning 2 kickoffs for TDs, including a 95-yarder against No. 6 Oregon in the Rose Bowl.
Something has been a little off about Jordan Stout lately. Two of his kickoffs against Michigan went out of bounds, and he missed a 49-yard field goal. He’s also had a handful of really short punts. Penn State hasn’t had to defend too many returns dating back to 2019, with Stout consistently kicking the ball beyond the end zone, but should Cruickshank get his hands on one, look out.
4. Joey Porter Jr. gets his first interception
Penn State had just three available corners against Michigan, giving Porter, Marquis Wilson and Daequan Hardy a busy day as the trio combined for 10 tackles and 2 pass breakups.
Franklin said on Tuesday that he expects to have 4 if not 5 corners available against Rutgers, with the return of Tariq Castro-Fields and/or Keaton Ellis, but even with their returns, Porter has played well enough to merit keeping most if not all of his playing time.
Rutgers isn’t expected to name a starter between Art Sitkowski and Noah Vedral until Saturday, but Vedral is tied for the conference lead in interceptions (8) with Clifford and Rocky Lombardi of Michigan State, and there’s a reason Sitkowski wasn’t named the starter for the first five games.
5. Penn State wins … out
While the games against Rutgers and Michigan State are no longer sure things thanks to a combination of those teams being better than expected and Penn State being worse, the Lions are rejuvenated with their victory over Michigan.
Franklin refuses to talk about the prospect of playing in a bowl game (1-0 mindset, only), but if Penn State wins out and has a crossover game with a team such as Minnesota or Purdue, there is a real shot Penn State finishes 4-5 and maybe somehow winds up in a bowl game. There’s still hope to hit .500.