Coming off a frustrating and disappointing loss to Michigan on Saturday, Penn State is looking for a bounce-back performance against Rutgers at Beaver Stadium this Saturday. The offense, especially the passing game, was the major disappointment against the Wolverines, as Drew Allar and company could only muster 70 yards through the air. Mike Yurcich’s firing last Sunday makes this weekend even more intriguing for the Nittany Lions’ offense and how they look with new play callers.
The Scarlett Knights are no slouches when it comes to pass defense, ranking 9th in the nation in yards per game (166.2). Rutgers doesn’t present a considerable challenge to offensively ranking in the bottom four of the Big Ten in yards per game (310.5). The Scarlett Knights are also coming off a defeat after getting shutout by Iowa last weekend.
With FanDuel listing Penn State as a 20.5-point favorite against Rutgers, we look at five reasons the Nittany Lions get back into the win column.
Defense stops the run
For a defensive unit ranked second in the nation against the run going into last weekend, their performance against the Wolverines was surprising. Manny Diaz’s crew gave up a season worse 227 yards on the ground after stifling Maryland the week before. This will for sure be a point of emphasis this week, especially with Rutgers being the fourth-best rushing offense in the conference.
As it was last week, the Penn State defense must make the opposing quarterback beat them. JJ McCarthy did not beat the Nittany Lions last weekend. Instead, Blake Corum gashed the defense for 145 yards. Penn State must make Gavin Wimsatt throw the ball.
Drew Allar finds a rhythm
Michigan is one the top defenses in the nation, and Allar and Co. could not get into any rhythm throwing the ball. James Franklin said this week that some miscommunication and lack of certain play calls were a significant reason Allar struggled against the Wolverines. With Yurcich gone now, the passing game hopefully should see an uptick in easy passes for Allar that put Penn State’s playmakers in space.
Rutgers presents an easier passing defense than Michigan but is still a reasonable test for Allar and the passing attack. How the play calls look post-Yurcich is my most interesting aspect to watch in Saturday’s game.
Nicolas Singleton or Kayton Allen eclipses 100 yards
Before the season began, there were very high hopes about the former 5-star running backs breaking out in their sophomore season. Those breakouts have not happened yet, and neither of them has rushed for 100 yards in a game.
Rutgers’s run defense is ranked in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten but has given up 130 yards in four of their last five games including the past three. This matchup seems like a good one to get one or dare I say both running backs over that mark Seeing a breakthrough performance from Singleton or Allen would give this offense a much-needed jolt.
An explosive play or two on offense
Penn State’s offense has been criticized for its lack of explosion, and rightly so. The Nittany Lions rank 96th out of 133 teams in yards per play (4.9 yards). The lack of explosion has greatly limited this offensive ceiling and ability to strike quickly to change the momentum of a game. Creativity is part of the solution, but so is getting Penn State’s playmakers the ball in situations where they can eat up yards. Nicholas Singleton, KeAndre Lambert-Smith, and Dante Cephas are all players who should be fed the ball in space and given the opportunity to make something happen.
Third down conversions
After going 4/14 (28%) against Michigan last weekend, Penn State must convert on the “money down” more frequently to extend drives. As much as this starts with the passing game-making plays, it has much to do with play-calling. Third and long can be avoided with plays that keep the offense on schedule. Allar’s use of his legs on third downs can demoralize an opponent and be a massive asset for the Nittany Lions when a play breaks down. Whether Penn State finds itself in many third-down situations as a 20.5-point favorite remains to be seen, but converting on the ones they have is critical in avoiding a tight game.