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Penn State Football: Nittany Lions Waltz Past Rutgers 39-0

by on November 20, 2016 1:40 AM

Penn State and Rutgers played Saturday night in a game that turned into the formality everyone expected it to be as the Nittany Lions cruised past Rutgers for a 39-0 victory.

If the upset watch was ever going to be taken seriously the Nittany Lions gave Rutgers that chance early in the game as Miles Sanders fumbled the opening kickoff. But an offense that has struggled all season did so yet again as the Scarlet Knights lost seven yards on the ensuing drive, eventually missing the 45-yard field goal wide right.

That was Rutgers' only real chance to score all night. Penn State racked up offense but settled for three first half field goals by Tyler Davis, despite four trips to the red zone. Heading into Saturday night the Nittany Lions had scored touchdowns on 19 occasions in the red zone during conference play, third best in the Big Ten.

"We had to finish drives," quarterback Trace McSorley said after the game. "Not settling for field goals. Not that there is anything wrong with field goals, just punching it in when we get that close."

If the first half was Penn State politely giving Rutgers an opportunity to keep things close, the second half was the Nittany Lions shutting the door and turning the page to a now highly anticipated meeting with Michigan State. It all started early in the final 30 minutes of play as Juwan Johnson blocked a Rutgers' punt with Garrett Taylor recovering the ball at the Scarlet Knights' 10-yard line. 

“I don’t like to say we’re a second half team, but in times like this, it’s nice to say we’re a second half team,” coach James Franklin said. “We’ve just been in this situation so many times that the players believe in each other, they believe in the coaches, the coaches believe in the guys, and we’re going to battle for four quarters.”

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Just three plays later Saquon Barkley punched it in for a score flipping the script on an inefficient first half in the red zone and turning a manageable 9-0 lead into a much wider 16-0 margin. After holding Rutgers to a -6 yard drive Penn State once again marched down the field before Tyler Davis' 32-yarder pushed Penn State ahead even farther. 

A six-play, 63-yard drive was capitalized on minutes later as Andre Robinson punched home the ball to put Penn State up 25-0, a score that would hold until the end of the quarter.

With ice and sleet and rain falling heavily from the sky and the crowd quickly vanishing from the stands, it was simply a matter of running out the clock. Rutgers posed little to no threat on offense and the field conditions did little to change that, especially after a 27-yard catch and score by Mark Allen made it 32-0 with Saquon Barkley resting on the sideline.

“The guys that we have in the backfield, obviously Saquon is one of the best running backs in the country, I mean, everyone knows that. But the stable of guys we have behind him, it’s almost like because Saquon is as good as he is, no one gets to see the real talent that we have at that position,” McSorley said.

Backup quarterback Tommy Stevens added his name to the box score in the game's final minutes, scoring from 12-yards out on a quarterback draw to give the game it's final tally.

By the end of Saturday's affair there was little to learn that was not already known about the 2016 edition of the Nittany Lions. They overcame early struggles, played outstanding defense, and managed to pull away from their opponent with big plays through the air and on the ground. It has become and interesting state of affairs that Penn State has gotten to the point where a 39-0 victory can be seen as a somewhat sloppy outing.

Penn State's offense piled up 549 yards and went 10-of-19 on third down. Barkley had 92 yards on 16 carries, Miles Sanders adding 85 of his own including a 57-yard rush late in the game. Mike Gesicki caught five passes for 47-yards with DeAndre Thompkins, Chris Godwin and DaeSean Hamilton all catching at least two passes for a total of 30+ yards receiving.

Defensively it was the usual suspects making plays with Brandon Bell picking up five tackles, a sack and a forced fumble as Penn State racked up a total of 11 tackles for a loss and two sacks on the night. Rutgers lost 13 yards in the third quarter, gaining just 87 all game.

Ultimately though Saturday night was never about anything other than Penn State winning and moving one step closer toward a Big Ten Title game invite. And so after a game that never really was one, it's what happens next week that could very well become the biggest game in nearly a decade for a program suddenly far more relevant than anyone imagined just a few months ago.



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