Penn State improved to 9-2 on Saturday afternoon after a 27-6 victory over Rutgers in Happy Valley. It wasn’t always pretty for the Nittany Lions, but they pulled out the win with their tough defense and gritty offensive performance. Penn State will end the regular season next week against Michigan State in Detroit on Friday evening.
No team could get the passing game going in the first half, and it seemed like every yard Penn State gained was hard-earned. Starting quarterback Drew Allar left the game early while running and taking a brutal hit that left him on the turf for a minute. He appeared to injure his right shoulder area and did not return, and he airmailed a screen pass out of bounds on the next play. Redshirt freshman Beau Pribula came into the game and seemed to give the offense a jolt of energy with his ability to find the edge on several of his runs. Allar’s health will be a fascinating storyline to follow this week.
Rutgers was able to drive the ball down the field for a couple of drives with quarterback Gavin Wimsatt, giving Penn State’s defense fits with his legs. The defense forced the Scarlett Knights into three turnovers and pressured Wimsatt often.
Let us dive into a few takeaways from the Nittany Lions’ ninth win of the season.
Offensive successes sans Drew Allar
Much has been made about how lackluster the Penn State offense has looked throughout the season, and for the portion of the game with Allar, it looked more of the same. Immediately after Beau Pribula took over, he took the first snap for a 39-yard gain and was a spark for a Nittany Lion offense that couldn’t get anything going. Pribula’s mobility is his number-one asset, and he showed that against the Scarlett Knights, gashing them for 71 yards and a touchdown on only 8 carries.
Penn State has lacked an identity on offense the whole year, and although Pribula only attempted one pass, the offense, without a doubt, had more flow. We have seen how successful Penn State can be with a mobile quarterback in Trace McSorley, so it begs the question that if the offense is going to remain as it is, maybe mobility at the quarterback position should be prioritized. If Allar is healthy enough to play next week, then the play calls to scheme receivers open need to improve. Pribula capitalized on his chance in the second half today, and James Franklin has to consider him as a true option for next week, no matter the health of Allar.
Despite not eclipsing the 100-yard mark, Kaytron Allen had a successful day running the ball with authority. His runs throughout the first half were like watching a bulldozer plowing snow because there was no room. He fought for every yard and eventually broke out for a 20-yard gain in the second half. On the day, he ran for two touchdowns and 69 yards on 16 carries.
Allen and Nick Singleton have been sharing duties for Penn State throughout the season, but perhaps naming a feature back would help the whole offense become more consistent. Tough running won the game for the Nittany Lions, and Allen was a huge reason why.
If you take out Rutgers’s two field goal drives, Manny Diaz’s crew defense was once again dominant. Forcing three turnovers and multiple pressures on Gavin Wimsatt were huge moments throughout the game. Chop Robinson had a monster game that included a sack and two tackles for losses. Robinson also forced one of Wimsatt’s fumbles that the Penn State offense turned into points.
Wimsatt never seemed completely comfortable throwing against the Penn State secondary, and after the first half, the holes he found running the football in the first half were stuffed with Nittany Lions.
Offensive play calling
No one really knew what to expect once Penn State made the change at offensive coordinator, and as it turned out, it was much of the same: Running the ball between the tackles and not attempting to find the edge, limited pass plays to create separation for your receivers.
For most of the first half I thought plays were called for Penn State’s tight ends and running backs, Penn State’s two best offensive positions but it was not consistent. If you have an offensive struggling like Penn State’s, it is on the coaches to scheme it up better, and that did not seem to improve enough from last week.
Once Pribula got into the game, the Nittany Lions shifted almost completely away from the pass, which was expected with a dual-threat quarterback and the play calls seemed to help the offense rather than hurt it. Overall the play-calling wasn’t close to good enough.
The OC hire becomes that much more important
It was important before Saturday’s game kicked off, but after the final whistle, it became even more apparent that a new offensive mind is desperately needed in Happy Valley.
After watching today’s game, it became more apparent that Penn State seems to be missing certain pieces for the offense it wanted to run this year. Namely, it is in the receiver room, but perhaps after today’s second half with Beau Pribula under center, it was the wrong offense to run this season if Drew Allar is the starter. It seems like Penn State is at a juncture where it needs to pick a system to fit its best players like Allar.