On Saturday #8 Penn State visits Rutgers at High Point Solutions Stadium along the mighty Raritan River. The Nittany Lions are riding a 6-game win streak and have played themselves into contention for a Big Ten title and College Football Playoff appearance. Our Penn State Insider, Brian Tripp, provides his three keys to victory against the Scarlet Knights.
Brian’s Three Keys:
- Avoid Distractions – After Michigan’s loss to Iowa, national pundits could no longer ignore Penn State’s surge into contention for a Big Ten title. The Nittany Lions need Indiana or Ohio State to beat Michigan in the final two weeks of the regular season and Penn State can reach Indianapolis with a pair of victories. Coach of the Year candidate James Franklin and his staff have done a terrific job keeping the team focused by preaching a week-to-week approach. Still, this is by far the most positive publicity the program has received over the past five seasons. In fact, most outlets say Penn State, not Ohio State or Michigan, has the best chance of representing the Big Ten East Division in the championship game. With Rutgers ranking among the worst division one teams, it’s very easy to overlook the opponent. But, it’s something Penn State cannot afford.
- Avoid Turnovers – Head coach James Franklin and quarterback Trace McSorley both identified limited turnovers as a major source of success for Penn State prior to last weekend’s game at Indiana. Turnovers against the Hoosiers allowed Indiana to lead by as many as ten points in the third quarter and exasperated Penn State’s solid defense with poor field position. Once Penn State began playing complementary football, the game shifted into its favor. Rutgers is not good enough to beat Penn State. Penn State can only lose if it beats itself.
- Matt Limegrover – The former Minnesota offensive coordinator might quietly be James Franklin’s best offseason hire. Limegrover deserves a lot of credit for the improvements along Penn State’s offensive line. However, he is now forced to continue to work his magic along the front with as many as three starters potentially out on Saturday night. Guard Connor McGovern did practice Wednesday, but no official update on his status was provided. Penn State will be without starting tackle Andrew Nelson and key reserve Paris Palmer and starter Brandon Mahon is not expected to return. Therefore, Penn State will be playing without its three best tackles. This week’s depth chart lists Ryan Bates as the starting left tackle, moving outside from his left guard position. Steven Gonzalez and Derek Dowrey will likely both be counted on to play guard if Bates moves to tackle again or McGovern can’t suit up. Penn State also may opt to remove redshirt tags on tackle Will Fries and guard Michael Menet to provide additional support. Regardless, Limegrover is working with a depleted unit, but has earned the trust and respect of Penn State fans and Franklin to create an effective unit.
Brian’s Player to Watch
Saquon Barkley – Barkley’s breakout performance against Rutgers in primetime last season showcased the Coplay-native’s skillset for Penn State fans nationwide. Barkley carried a career-high 33 times against Indiana last week, but only managed 1.8 yards per carry. Also, 11 of Barkley’s carries went for negative yardage. Rutgers’ porous run defense should allow Barkley to post eye-popping numbers if he gets enough blocking up front. Barkley’s effectiveness against the Scarlet Knights will answer a few questions for Penn State fans. First, can the remade offensive line have success? Also, what does Barkley have left in the tank? Finally, can Penn State establish a running game to stay out of troubling third-and-long predicaments?
Brian’s Prediction: Penn State 45 Rutgers 17 – Penn State overcomes as slow start to dismantle Rutgers and setup a monumental final weekend of regular season play.