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Penn State Football: Previewing The Opponent: Rutgers

by on November 18, 2016 2:00 PM

Penn State's special season continues on Saturday night as the Nittany Lions face Rutgers on the road in a primetime showdown that is the third meeting between the two teams since Rutgers joined the Big Ten in 2014. An always rowdy Scarlet Knights' crowd ought to be on hand for another chapter in the regional rivalry. The question is if Saturday night's game is, in fact, a game.

Here is what you need to know about the 2-8 Scarlet Knights.

Last Week:

Rutgers came out on the losing end of things last week in the battle of the winless Big Ten teams, as Michigan State rolled 49-0 at home. The game marked the third this season in conference play that Rutgers was held scoreless after losing 58-0 at Ohio State and falling 78-0 at home against Michigan. Rutgers looked like a team nearly at the three win mark just a week prior, taking Indiana to the wire as the Hoosiers won 33-27 despite several turnovers and special teams miscues. All told, the Scarlet Knights have only beaten Howard and New Mexico so far this year with a 14-7 loss to Iowa and 24-7 loss to Illinois as two other notable contests.

The Offense:

Rutgers has played two quarterbacks so far this season, but the Nittany Lions are likely set to see Giovanni Rescigno on Saturday as the junior has started the past four games. Rescigno has been OK in place of the season's starter, Chris Laviano, but neither have passed for more than 800 yards and Rescigno has five interceptions in his four starts. Rescigno is also a threat with his legs having scored twice, including a 42-yard touchdown.

Robert Martin is just about the only bright spot on this offense with 105 carries for 547 yards and one score. Jawaun Harris has been a dependable target down the field with 32 catches for 400 yards and three touchdowns. Janarion Grant is a dual threat with 210 receiving and 138 yards and three scores on the ground. All things considered, though, it's a relatively weak offensive attack averaging just 17 points a game while giving up 38 a contest. Coming in at 127th in the nation in total offense is about all you need to know here.

The Defense:

Giving up an average of 38 points a game has done little to steady the ship for Rutgers and the results have shown. The Scarlet Knights are 14th in the conference in rushing defense and 12th in the conference in total defense. 

That being said, Blessuan Austin is second in the Big Ten with 1.6 passes defended per game while Anthony Cioffi needs just two more interceptions to land in the program's Top 10 list in that category. Trevor Morris and Deonte Roberts have both proven to be capable linebackers and both rank in the Top 10 in the conference in tackles per game. Team captain Julian Pinnix-Odrick leads the team with 4.5 sacks on the year while Darius Hamilton is the most veteran player on the squad with 49 games under his belt. 

The Player To Watch:

Assuming that Rutgers' defense doesn't suddenly become far more stout than it has been all year, this game will come down to Rutgers' ability to score points and keep within reach of Penn State. Because of that it's all about what Rescigno can do at quarterback. If he can find his targets and stay out of trouble in the backfield Rutgers has something of a chance in this one. If he struggles like he did against Michigan State it could be a quick night in New Jersey. 

On the other side of the ball, as Penn State's makeshift offensive line comes together, Darius Hamilton will be the one to watch on the defensive front. If anyone is going to cause trouble it will be him. It's just a matter of if it'll be enough trouble to slow down a multi-pronged attack.

The Prediction: 

It's senior night, and that always brings emotions for the home team, but Penn State is just better. Maybe a slow start makes it interesting, but a score for Penn State on either of its first two drives and this game might not last long. Rutgers isn't good and any team can win on any night, but there isn't any reason to think that will mean Rutgers has a prayer on Saturday. 45-10 seems likely but it really could be more if Penn State scores early and often.

But, if this season of college football has taught us anything, it's that nobody is safe.

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