UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - No. 8 Penn State Football returns to the road this week, traveling to Rutgers for primetime matchup at High Point Solutions Stadium set for 8 p.m. on BTN.
The Nittany Lions (8-2, 6-1) and the Scarlet Knights (2-8, 0-7) are set to meet in their third consecutive night game in the 27th all-time meeting between the two teams.
On a six-game winning streak, Penn State will also look to channel its momentum into another strong start as the Nittany Lions enter the matchup having scored a touchdown in the opening drive in four of the last five games, including each of the last three straight.
Although starting fast last week, Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley helped the Nittany Lions rally back from a double digit deficit to top Indiana on the road, 62-24. Logging his third career 300-yard passing performance, McSorley completed 16-of-30 attempts, throwing two touchdowns.
McSorley was also especially effective in executing long yardage pass plays, totaling eight completions of 20 or more yards against the Hoosiers. He is currently ranked first nationally in the FBS standings in passing yards per completion, averaging 15.93 on the year.
The Nittany Lions punctuated the comeback win with a 9-yard touchdown from defensive end Torrence Brown, who scooped up Indiana's fifth fumble of the game, returning the recovery for his first career touchdown. On the year, Penn State's three defensive touchdowns are ranked second in the Big Ten and 11th nationally in the FBS standings.
Rutgers enters Saturday's matchup looking to snap a seven-game skid. Saturday's outing is senior day for the Scarlet Knights, as they return home from a loss on the road at Michigan State last week. With first year head coach Chris Ash at the helm of the program, Rutgers will look to earn its first win against a ranked opponent since 2009, preparing to take on their fourth ranked opponent of the season.
"Rutgers, we are excited about this game and this opportunity," Penn State head coach James Franklin said. "In recent history, the last couple games we've had some success. We had a really tough game down at their place, an emotional game in a tough environment, but found a way to get a win in 2014."
Watch For: Penn State
1. Penn State's offensive line has been through adversity, most recently with injuries sidelining at least three starters at offensive line. Despite the adversity, Penn State's offensive line has paved the way for the Nittany Lion offense to rack up more than 400 yards in seven of 10 games, which marks as the most since totaling seven in 2013. It's a true "next man up" mentality for the unit right now as Franklin had high praise for the perseverance group of the week, especially noting the leadership of senior center Brian Gaia.
"I think you'd have a hard time having a true freshman or redshirt freshman at both guards without that type of leadership on the inside," Franklin said.
2. While Nittany Lion fans have certainly been dazzled by some clutch athletic catches by tight end Mike Gesicki, both Franklin and tight ends coach Ricky Rahne have not only seen grown in his confidence and production. Rather, both have noticed Gesicki making strides in blocking and pass protection.
There have been some times when he has made some very big, critical blocks that have helped him to spring Saquon [Barkley] and get him loose, as well as other guys," Rahne said. "The other thing that I have been really proud of him is in the passing game. When we have asked him to be a pass protector, he has done really well at it and it's allowed us to throw the ball down the field, to give a couple of different looks to the defense where maybe we might have a seven-man protection and that sort of deal."
3. In the past few weeks, Franklin has highlighted how the special teams unit has been especially effective in securing solid field positioning and drive start average, areas where he also stressed has been significant in the team's improvement from last year to this year.
"I still think we can be more consistent with our punt location and our kick location and the consistency of those balls, but I'm really pleased with how those units are playing right now," Franklin said.
Watch For: Rutgers
1. In the last three games, quarterback Giovanni Rescigno has earned the starting job for the Scarlet Knights. With seven touchdowns on the year (five passing, two rushing), he highlighted the Indiana game throwing for a career high 258 yards with two touchdowns, one rushing and one passing. Averaging 127.6 passing yards per game, Rescigno is 57-for-108 on the year with 638 passing yards.
2. Rutgers is among the Big Ten's best at defending the passing game, limiting its opponents to 193.2 yards through the air. The mark ranks fourth in the Big Ten and 23rd nationally in the Big Ten standings. Rutgers' Blessaun Austin currently ranks second in the conference and fourth nationally with 1.6 passes defended per game with 13 pass breakups and one interception.
3. Franklin noted earlier this week that with every new staff change there's a period of adjustment. Noting that Rutgers has a variety of talent in several different areas, he also stressed that with with the transition, there comes a time where eventually things will begin to click.
"I think this is a team that is kind of just waiting for the light to go on for them and have their moment," Franklin said. "They have all the pieces of the puzzle to be successful."
The Final Word -
Last time Penn State traveled to Rutgers, the Scarlet Knights were making their Big Ten conference debut. In front of a record crowd at High Point Solutions Stadium, the Nittany Lions gritted out a 13-10 road win, rallying behind from a 10-point deficit. Although in the past, Penn State has already proved resilient this year, having battled back from double figure deficits on three occasions this season, the most in a single season since at least 1970.