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Penn State Football: Previewing The Opponent: Rutgers

by on September 12, 2014 1:30 PM

It's already the third week of the college football season and that means yet another game for Penn State as the Nittany Lions look to go 3-0 on the year.

Penn State will be playing in its first game since the announcement that the NCAA is lifting some sanctions and the Nittany Lions would be able to qualify for a bowl later this year.

Rutgers will play in its first Big Ten conference game as a new member of the conference. Both teams have plenty to gain and plenty to lose so Saturday's contest should be a great one.

Last Week: Rutgers and Penn State both won in Week 2 of the season with Rutgers' 38-25 win over Howard taking a little more time to develop than Penn State's near shutout of Akron. Interestingly enough, Howard has faced two of Penn State's opponents this season in Akron and Rutgers. Akron walked away with a 41-0 victory which makes for some interesting food for thought.

The Good: Running back Paul James is a viable running back option in a physical Big Ten and should be a big part of the Knights' first conference contest of the season. James has 42 carries for 216 yards this season averaging 5.1 yards a carry. James will be facing the best interior defense he has seen this season but should still be a big part of what Rutgers is trying to do offensively.

Under center Gary Nova has had a strong start to the season going 31-46 for 563 yards for 6 TDs and 1 Interception. Nova doesn't have the yardage that Hackenberg does for Penn State but has still had an impressive start this season. Nova's stats might be a little inflated playing the likes of Howard, but a 281 yard passing night against Washington State shouldn't be overlooked. Leonte Carroo hauled down 6 catches for 151 yards with 78 coming in one play against WSU.

The Bad: For all of the viable options that Rutgers has on offense, the defense has a lot of question marks. Pass defense is at the top the list of concerns for Rutgers. Washington State's Connor Halliday passed for 532 yards against Rutgers two weeks ago and Christian Hackenberg may be the best passer Rutgers sees all season. If Hackenberg gets going early, Rutgers could be in for a long night.

The Player To Watch: Paul James is the obvious choice in terms of playmaking, but Nova has the potential to exploit a pass defense that has been an area of concern for Penn State the past few years. The talent is there for Penn State, but there are still some issues. The Nittany Lions are rarely burned by a running back and while James should get some solid numbers he has yet to face the likes of Deion Barnes and Anthony Zettel. If Rutgers is happy to run the ball Penn State will be happy to play that game. If Nova gets pass happy that could spell trouble for the Nittany Lions if he plays well.

Prediction: Rutgers' offense is in theory more balanced than Penn State's with a solid ground and air attack. Even so, with Hackenberg passing against a struggling pass defense the answer to "who wins?" comes down to Penn State's defense against Rutgers' skill players. Rutgers' relatively close win over Howard doesn't seem to bode well for the Knights who are about to face the best team they've seen all year.

When in doubt, go with the better defense. And Penn State has the better unit.

Expect Penn State to pull away in the second half. Vegas has Penn State favored by 3 points but it's hard to imagine that being the final difference between teams.

Final Score: Penn State Wins 30-21



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