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Penn State Football: Five Things To Watch As The Nittany Lions Face Rutgers

by on November 16, 2018 11:30 AM

Ah yes, Rutgers week is here and Penn State is headed to New Jersey for its second to last regular season game of the year. With the Scarlet Knights and Maryland on the docket, it's a good chance for the Nittany Lions to pick up two wins as they can eye a 10-win season for a third straight year.

So let's say -- just for a second -- that this game doesn't really last all four quarters. What can you watch for? Here are five things.

Keep It Going:

Penn State did a lot of good things last weekend against Wisconsin on both sides of the ball. That's great, but what is even better is doing it over and over again in back-to-back games. So if the Nittany Lions did it well last week, can they do it again on the road? Rutgers shouldn't offer up a significant challenge for Penn State so this is much more about execution than it is overcoming whatever the Scarlet Knights throw Penn State's way.

Can the field goals continue to sail true? Can Penn State's offense continue to convert on third down? Can the defense get off the field? All of those little things are in play. All things being equal this game shouldn't be a game for long, so it's the nitty gritty that is important to finding value in this game if you're James Franklin. 

Don't Play Down:

Whatever issues you might have with Penn State aesthetically, the Nittany Lions are a 26-point favorite for a reason this weekend. In turn, can Penn State avoid playing down to an inferior opponent? That doesn't mean winning by 30, but it has been a long time since the Nittany Lions have won a game with relative ease. A lot of that has to do with the opponents in the middle stretch of the season, but if Penn State can head into New Jersey and walk out with an easy victory, there is something to be said for that.

So avoid the little mistakes, avoid the self-inflicted wounds. That's the mark of a good team. Penn State is better than Rutgers, now it's a matter of proving it again.

Finally:

Rutgers is as good of an opportunity to finally get over the hump with some issues as any. Can Penn State have a quality day on special teams in all of the phases? Can the offensive line play up to its billing? Can the receivers catch pass and make plays after the fact? Maybe doing it against Rutgers isn't the same thing as doing it against Ohio State, but positive reps are valuable for these Nittany Lions, many of whom are reaching the final weeks of their first collegiate season. 

As they say in basketball, seeing the ball go through the hoop can really help a shooter.

The Other Guys:

Saturday is another likely chance to see some of Penn State's backup and depth players in action, how do they look? At this point none of them will be making their debut, but if Ricky Slade can get some carries, if Justin Shorter can make some plays, all of those snaps are important and informative.

If Penn State goes up big, be ready to see some of these guys out on the field, and while you may have seen most of them play a series or two before on either side of the ball, this might be the most they've played in a while. Keep an eye on them, those players are the future as much as many of the starters are.

Late Momentum:

However you end up remembering the 2018 season might just come down to a bowl opponent and a result in that game. Sure the Nittany Lions lost to Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan, but a potential New Years Six bowl or even a high end Big Ten offering against a good opponent could erase some of those bad emotions. 

And that only happens if Penn State can pick up some late season swagger. Rutgers and Maryland both offer Penn State a chance to get that back before heading into a month of preparation in December. A little momentum, a good bowl trip and a victory? That's a third-straight 10-win season. That's something, even if this year left you wanting more.



Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for StateCollege.com. He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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