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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - No. 14 Penn State football (7-2, 4-2 Big Ten) returns home from the road, set to host Rutgers (4-5, 3-3 Big Ten) Saturday in a noon outing at Beaver Stadium.
The Nittany Lions will welcome home alumni for homecoming, in addition to 7,500 service members in attendance courtesy of Penn State's Seats for Servicemembers program. In honor of Veterans Day, Penn State will honor all active duty and veteran service members and their families in a Military Appreciation game.
"Going to be some challenges [for us] with balancing homecoming, military appreciation day, which is always a great opportunity for us to make sure that the people that serve our country know how much we appreciate it, and Penn State does an unbelievable job with that," Penn State head coach James Franklin said.
The Nittany Lions enter Saturday's matchup coming off a pair of tough losses on the road by a combination of four total points.
While returning to the comforts of the home crowd offers a sigh of relief, Penn State is by no means taking even a mere second to exhale.
"I'm a huge believer in, you take care of today and that will take care of tomorrow," Franklin said. "We are going to make sure that we get back to the formula that got us here in the first place and I believe so strongly in that."
Poised to get back to basics, not much change was needed for the Nittany Lions this week, beginning with film corrections on Sunday.
"I would say mostly just understanding what mistakes we've done, why they happened, how can we capitalize on them and eliminate them going forward," wide receiver DeAndre Thompkins said. "After that, just erasing it. It's already done. Nothing you can do about it and just attack the next week, one week at a time."
With the past in the past, Penn State has turned its full focus toward the Scarlet Knights, who arrive in Happy Valley with wins in three of their last four conference games, most recently topping Maryland, 31-24 at home.
"Offensively they're a pro style offensive that mixes some spread concepts in there a little bit," Franklin said. "We have a lot of respect for Jerry Kill, as Matt Limegrover and Jerry were together for 17 years, and we have a lot of respect for him. Defensively, they've moved to odd- front defense, which is different. We don't see that very often. It changes how you have to game plan."
Led by second-year head coach Chris Ash, Rutgers will also begin a two-game road stretch beginning with the Nittany Lions, having already matched its team-high mark for Big Ten wins in just the last few weeks.
What to Watch For -
1. Earlier this week, Rutgers defensive coordinator Jay Niemann noted the matchup problem that someone like tight end Mike Gesicki creates. Noting both size and length, Niemann said mixing coverages would be key to limiting Gesicki's impact.
Coming off a career-high outing at Michigan State (8 catches for 89 yards), he's second on the team with 38 receptions on the year. With four receiving touchdowns this year, he's also tied for 12th in the Big Ten, also owning the team's longest active reception stretch with one catch in 23 consecutive games.
2. Physicality up front was a major takeaway Franklin expressed postgame at Michigan State. For Franklin though, it's not something that happens overnight, as it's an issue spanning more than just the last two weeks, and more of a mentality than it is an action item in practice.
"We have been saying internally and externally, that we want to be a more physical team up front," Franklin said. "When I say that I'm not just talking about the offensive line. I'm talking about tight ends. I'm talking about all of it. I think it's something that we can do a better job of and need to do a better job of to take that next step as a program."
3. Penn State is plus-12 in the turnover margin, which is tied for fifth in FBS. Having forced at least one turnover in the last 10 consecutive games, the Nittany Lions have hardly struggled when it comes to creating opportunities off of turnovers. On the other side of things though, Franklin made specific note of the impact the three turnovers the Nittany Lions committed at Michigan State made. It's not all a total negative though.
"One of the areas that I thought we've been struggling on defense this year with sudden change and I thought our defense handled the three turnovers extremely well," Franklin said. "Those three turnovers came out to be two punts and one take away. So that was a real positive. We want to build on that."
What to Watch For -
1. During his weekly press conference, Franklin pointed out the Rutgers odd-front defense, something that will dictate Penn State's blocking schemes in the running game and in the passing game from a protection standpoint.
For someone like tight end Jonathan Holland, it's a challenge the Nittany Lions are looking forward to.
"I feel like playing college football I've seen a lot of teams with a lot of different defenses," Holland said. "Their defense is definitely very different from ones that we've seen but I feel like it's just a great matchup and I feel like our entire team, position by position, is really eager for the matchup that's coming up this weekend. I feel like we're all going to be very prepared for it. It comes down to us being able to execute."
2. The Scarlet Knights have three running backs averaging at least 4.9 career yards per carry. Among the unit, Franklin made specific note of Gus Edwards, a fifth-year senior transfer from Miami.
"I think the big this is the back," Franklin said. "The running back who transferred from Miami is a really good player. He's 235 pounds and he's a downhill guy and I think he's a redshirt senior so he's kind of been there and has that experience, gets behind the offensive line and they run the inside zone and it's almost like wedge play. They just kind of cram it in there."
Edwards leads the team with 630 rushing yards and 732 all-purpose yards, ranking 10th in the Big Ten with seven total touchdowns on the year. He's also coming off a season-high outing against Maryland with 109 rushing yards to record his first 100-yard rushing game in a Rutgers uniform.
3. Last year Rutgers went 0-9 in Big Ten conference play. At 3-3, a fourth conference win would be the most for the Scarlet Knights since securing five wins as a member of the Big East conference in 2012. With three wins following a winless conference season, Rutgers is one only six of the past 30 Big Ten teams since 1960 to win at least three league games the following year.
"Obviously they're coming off a hot streak," offensive lineman Steven Gonzalez said. "It's always going to be tough and they're going to come in and try to knock us off. They're going to come in with a lot of momentum, so we just have to be prepared for it."
The Final Word -
Penn State has claimed a win in 10 of its last 12 homecoming outings. With a 70-22-5 record in nearly 100 outings in front of the alumni crowd, the Nittany Lions have won their last two consecutive homecoming games. Homecoming success aside, Penn State has won its 12 straight games inside Beaver Stadium, in arguably the best atmosphere in all of college football.
"We have a distinct advantage here at our stadium and we want to continue that, and we need our fan support come Saturday, and to find a way to be successful," Franklin said. "It's going to take all of us. I said that in my opening press conference and I believe that more today. It's going to take all of us together to go to the stadium, and make it a very challenging environment for people to be successful."