UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - When Penn State head coach James Franklin was asked postgame if he'd ever been a part of an outing where his team had held an opponent to fewer than 100 yards of total offense in game, he wasn't sure if he had.
Saturday evening at High Point Solutions Stadium, the Nittany Lions held the Scarlet Knights to just 87 yards of total offense, marking the fewest yards surrendered in a Big Ten game in program history. Holding Rutgers to nearly 150 yards below Penn State's previous single game low this season, the Nittany Lions also gave up just five first downs, marking another program first in conference action.
Acknowledging the unpredictable nature of the weather, Franklin was quick to direct credit to the leadership of Nittany Lion defensive coordinator Brent Pry, who has guided the defense through times of adversity and uncertainty to remarkable success to date.
"This team, tonight was a mental toughness game and physical toughness game and that's where we've been all year long," Franklin said. "There's been some adversity that's hit with the linebacker unit and o-line unit. It's been a next man in mentality with no excuses. We're going to make a way or find a way, and I'm really proud of the guys handled all those things."
Through preparation and execution, the Nittany Lion defense was on display once again Saturday, setting the tone early as safety Malik Golden took down Rutgers running back Josh Hicks for a loss of seven yards before defensive linemen Kevin Givens and Curtis Cothran halted quarterback Gio Rescigno on third-and-17 all on the first Scarlet Knight drive of the game.
With the Nittany Lions leading 3-0 in the opening quarter, linebacker Brandon Bell followed with a strip sack on third-and-3, forcing his second consecutive fumble to date. Although Penn State didn't recover the fumble, the Nittany Lions forced the second of 11 total Scarlet Knight punts.
In total, the Penn State defense matched a season-high mark with 11.0 tackles for loss, marking the Nittany Lions' fourth game with double figure tackles for loss this season. In the national FBS standings, Penn State is ranked fifth in team tackles for loss and second in the Big Ten conference.
Penn State's success on the defensive side of the ball hasn't been random though, as an increased focus on game week preparation with extra film sessions are now all part of the routine.
"It's a routine and every guy knows, after class, when you get your school work done we need to get in the film room and get this extra stuff done," linebacker Jason Cabinda said. "We're in there and any time we have questions we leave them on the board for our coaches, asking questions about the offense even before we get a game plan. It's awesome the kind of things that guys are doing and how guys are trying to do everything they can, put so much effort in to make sure that we're 1-0 each week."
Mike Gesicki's Record-Setting
With a team-high five catches against the Scarlet Knights, tight end Mike Gesicki broke the Penn State record for tight end receptions with 42 on the year. With the mark, he surpassed Penn State's Andrew Quarless who had 41 in 2009.
Gesicki highlighted the opening quarter with a 26-yard grab from quarterback Trace McSorley, landing on one foot just inside the line before nearly hurdling the Rutgers defense for the Penn State first down on fourth.
Tyler Davis Earns Big Ten Weekly
Following a career-high performance at Rutgers, Penn State place kicker Tyler Davis earned Big Ten Co-Special Teams Players of the Week honors, making him the ninth Nittany Lion to earn a conference weekly honor this season.
Davis enters the week ranked second in the conference and 11th nationally with a .909 field goal percentage. He's atop the conference standings and sixth nationally in the FBS standings averaging 1.82 field goals per game.
More on his impact in the shutout victory at Rutgers here.
A Quick Look at Michigan State
Penn State is set to host the Spartans Saturday at Beaver Stadium in a 3:30 p.m. kick on senior day. Michigan State enters the matchup coming off of a close 17-16 loss to second-ranked Ohio State. It came down to the final five minutes as the Spartans missed a 2-point conversion, giving the Buckeyes the win at home in East Lansing.
At 3-8 on the year and 1-7 in Big Ten play, absolutely no Nittany Lion is counting out the Spartans, as Franklin noted postgame Saturday that the staff would be grading out the Rutgers film before arriving home in Happy Valley to focus solely on Michigan State.
"They're a tough team and have been a tough team for a long time," Franklin said. "Coach Dantonio has done a great job for a long time and they have talent. We're going to have to have a great week of practice."