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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."
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Whether rain, wind, snow or sleet, Penn State kicker Tyler Davis is as consistent as ever, helping guide Penn State to a 39-0 shutout victory on the road at Rutgers Saturday night.
The Nittany Lions (9-2, 7-1) blew past the Scarlet Knights (2-9, 0-8), notching their first shutout since taking down Illinois 39-0 last year, helped out a career-high four field goals from Davis.
Having already adjusted through the transition to a new holder, Davis faced a different kind of challenge Saturday, with unpredictable whipping winds mixed in with rain and sleet adding extra pressure.
"The wind is a big thing for me," Davis said. "Really the the rain is bigger for the snapper and the holder to get it back there, catch it and get it down."
Those challenges all seemed like just another day at the office for Davis and company, as he kicked three consecutive field goals for the Nittany Lions in the opening half, including a season-long 40-yarder on the third attempt.
Relying on repetition and preparation, Davis calmly explained his process following his first half heroics that kept the Nittany Lions on top early.
"Really what I did, I just picked a spot on the scoreboard - I always look at the scoreboard to see where I'm going to aim my kicks. So I just pick a spot, a little inside the right post or a little inside the left post and just try to hit it."
Penn State head coach James Franklin had nothing but praise for Davis, noting that if he had pick an MVP, he'd select Davis.
"That guy is unbelievable," Franklin said. "He has a real maturity for a guy his age. He handles things really well. We changed the holder situation and a lot of times that can mess up a kicker and he has been great. He basically told me that whoever you put in there, I'll kick it through the uprights however they hold it - upright, sideways, crooked, laces."
Getting It Done on Third Down
Penn State went 10-for-19 in third down conversions at Rutgers, converting at one of the highest clips of the season.
Quarterback Trace McSorley led the way with three conversions, opening the game with a 4-yard run to put Penn State in position for the first of three consecutive Tyler Davis field goals.
McSorley certainly wasn't alone, as he was joined by a solid rotation of running backs. At least three different running backs helped the Nittany Lions in key third down situations, with Saquon Barkley running in for the 1-yard touchdown in the third quarter for Penn State's first touchdown of the night. Barkley's touchdown also set a Penn State sophomore program record as his 14 rushing touchdowns rank first first all-time for a Nittany Lion sophomores.
Penn State also highlighted the evening with a 5-for-5 performance in the fourth quarter, featuring back-to-back 11-yard runs from McSorley early in the frame. Miles Sanders capped off the quarter with a career-long 57-yard run before back up quarterback Tommy Stevens added a 12-yard run on third and-6 in the final minutes of the game.
Running Backs Highlight Offense
Across Penn State's seven-game winning streak the Nittany Lions have seen at least two different running backs score a touchdown in a game on three occasions. Saturday, Penn State saw three different running backs in the end zone for the second time this season.
Following the 1-yard Barkley touchdown, Andre Robinson spelled a sidelined Barkley stepping in for the 2-yard rushing touchdown, his fourth of the season, to push Penn State up 19-0.
This offense continues to produce.-- Penn State On BTN (@PennStateOnBTN) November 20, 2016
This time, Andre Robinson punches it in against the Scarlet Knights. 👊 https://t.co/t8MowcTOzN
Mark Allen added the final running back touchdown of the night, with a 27-yard touchdown catch from McSorley, dodging at the Rutgers defense with a pair of sharp cuts before finding the the end zone.
Juwan Johnson's Blocked Punt
Franklin said postgame that statistically speaking, a blocked punt has the ability to swing the moment of a game. Juwan Johnson's first career blocked punt did just that for the Nittany Lions as he came barreling off the edge to find Rutgers punter Michael Cintron without so much as a single hand on him. Penn State followed with their first touchdown of the game, sparking the offensive momentum in the second half.
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.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State pass game coordinator and tight ends coach Ricky Rahne took time to speak with members of the media Thursday afternoon during Rutgers week.
The Nittany Lions remain on the road this week, set to square off against Rutgers in a primetime matchup at 8 p.m. from High Point Solutions Stadium.
Check out a
few updates from this afternoon's Q&A session with Coach Rahne.
On the progress of
tight ends Tom Pancoast and Jonathan Holland.
Rahne: I think with Tom, he has been steady for us all year. He has done some nice things on special teams, kickoff return and PAT field goal and he has a couple of other roles and some back up roles. He has done a nice job for us there. When Mike [Gesicki] got nicked up a little bit in the Ohio State game, he went in there and he did a nice job for us. He helped us move the ball and be able to go down and get the one touchdown before the half, and all of those sort of things. We've been excited about him and how consistent he has been.
With Jon, we've been very, very pleased with how he has been in practice. I think the improvements that he has made, he has given a ton of effort in practice and in trying to get better in his fundamentals and things like that. It showed in some of the games he played in, against Purdue in particular where he graded out very well. I've been happy with both those guys.
On Mike Gesicki's leadership
style and how it has changed and drown within the last few years.
Rahne: He has more confidence in probably his knowledge of the overall scheme and in his techniques, fundamentals and in his production. I think that has helped him to be more vocal and things like that. I think the main thing where he shows vocal leadership the most is probably in his believe that we're going to win every game. He is a guy who really has confidence and faith in himself and if there's a game where we've been behind, he's right there telling me on the headset, saying hey coach we're going to win this game. I've been really pleased with that and I think it has been his confidence has grown and his leadership has grown with it.
On what the staff saw
in quarterback Trace McSorley when they first started to recruit him, especially
when looking at him as a potential safety.
Rahne: I watched his tape and I liked him as a quarterback. I wasn't quite sure, but I loved him as an athlete. As a safety, I gave him to our defensive coaches and they liked him and they offered him as a safety. I still liked him as a quarterback so I went down and watched him in the spring and the thing that sold me was just his accuracy. He was so accurate with the ball. The ball came out really tight off of his hand, and it showed that even though he's not the biggest guy in the world, he has a very strong arm.
Number one, it was just his accuracy and then as you got to know him, just how competitive he is and how much of a winner he is. When you look at his high school stats, how many games he has won, taking his team to four state championship games and winning three of them. You could just see it. When I watched him play in person a couple of times, the belief every body had in him, the belief in himself and just to watch everyone follow him, it was pretty easy to see that he was a natural born leader and he also possessed some great skills in throwing the ball and being able to run around.
On how an opponent might
see Penn State's offensive film differently in the first six weeks compared to
Rahne: I think, not to beat a dead horse, but we're playing with more confidence. They all kind of know their role in the scheme. We can make in-game adjustments on things we may or may not have practiced during the week and the guys understand the overall concepts and can quickly make those adjustments. I think that's been one the things that's helped us to make second half adjustments as a coaching staff, it's knowing that our guys understand the overall scheme and concepts of the plays where you can do some things a little bit different than what we've been doing in practice. Team are giving us some different looks and we've been able to adjust.
I think that when the defense would be looking at our film, that's the number one thing, our guys are playing with a lot of confidence but also, that a lot of different guys touch the ball.
One day it might be 26 [Saquon Barkley], the next day it might be 12 [Chris Godwin], 5 [DaeSean Hamilton], or 88 [Mike Gesicki]. Everyone's had their turn. That's the thing that has also grown. If they try to take away Saquon, another guy has stepped up and that's probably been the biggest difference.
On the third quarter
Trace McSorley 80-yard touchdown pass to Irvin Charles against Minnesota.
Rahne: It was a play that Coach Moorhead had run at a previous institution and we made a couple of adjustments on it that we thought could make the play better. Trace read it correctly and then made a good throw. Anytime the ball is in the air on those deep balls, I feel pretty good about it with our receivers, in particular there with Irvin. I know Coach Franklin talked about it earlier this week, how talented of a player he is and when he gets the ball in his hands, you just kind of hold your breath. It was nice to be able to get him involved in the game and get him going down the field. Obviously, that was a play that helped turn that game around and on hindsight, it probably helped to turn our season around and in positive direction. Coach Moorhead is great play caller and he sees some things out there and we try give input to him as much as we can to help him out. He can see some things happening and he can just kind of see that we had that chance with that play.
On what Trace McSorley
was like as a safety and how those skills have helped him at quarterback.
Rahne: At safety, it was his quickness. He had good speed, quickness. He was always around the ball. He had great instincts. The other thing - he was tough. I think with that toughness, you can see week in and week out. That's probably the thing that helps him the most and it endears him to his teammates. There's nothing that will get guys behind you as a quarterback more than being tough. Being tough and competitive are things he has in spades. Those are probably the main qualities.
On what it's like
watching a play develop from the coaches box.
Rahne: Last year was the first year I was down [on the field]. The first year I was in the box and at Vanderbilt I was in the box, so it was actually more of an adjustment last year. On the field, the advantage of it is that you can look a kid in the eye and you can do those sort of things and see what they are going through. The disadvantages are that you can kind of get caught up in the emotion of the game. You may be seeing "ghosts" out there whereas in the box, you get a much better feel for what is actually going on in the game. As the thing unfolds, there are different things you have to do to prepare during the week. I like to watch tape just like I would in the box a couple nights before the game where I'm just watching the sideline copy and I'm watching it and not rewinding it so I can try to get as much information as possible. It's a team effort up there. Joe Brady and Tommy Galt, our GA's are excellent at what they do. They do a fantastic job of preparing us and getting us a week ahead during the week and on gameday they do a great job too. We're just trying to get as much information up there as we can so Coach Moorhead can make the great decisions that he does make and kind of go from there.
On where Mike Gesicki
has improved on the field outside of catching balls.
Rahne: He's improving as a blocker. There have been some times when he has made some very big, critical blocks that have helped him to spring Saquon and get him loose, as well as other guys and things like that. 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. That's been good. I've been pleased with a lot of things he has been doing on the field. It's always going to be a work in progress. You can be a 19-year old freshman or a 14-year NFL pro, you're always going to be working on things and that sort of deal. He still has areas to improve, but I have been pleased with where he has made progress in blocking and the run game.
Riding a six-game winning streak, the Nittany Lions (8-2, 6-1) prepare to travel to Rutgers for the first time since 2014, meeting the Scarlet Knights (2-8, 0-7) for the 27th time in program history.
As he does every week, head coach James Franklin opened his weekly press conference with a few final thoughts on the road win at Indiana before diving into Rutgers.
Offensively, Franklin noted that he was pleased with Penn State's ability to start fast and score on the first drive, while also continuing to execute explosive plays. The Nittany Lions currently lead the Big Ten in long yardage plays of at least 20 yards, while also ranking tied for for sixth nationally among FBS programs in long yardage plays of 40-plus yards, with 18 on the year.
Franklin also stressed how the "next man up" mentality has now moved its way to the offensive line, where the Nittany Lions have seen injuries sideline three starters at offensive tackle.
"I'm really proud [of that group], Franklin said. "[Ryan] Bates hadn't taken a rep at tackle since he has been here and we moved him out last week, and he really did a nice job for us. So I'm proud of the mentality we had at linebacker earlier in the year when we faced some adversity and challenges, and same thing on the offensive line right now."
Defensively, Franklin noted that the Nittany Lions have been especially efficient in stopping the run, especially within the last few outings.
"We held Purdue to 1.8 yards per carry; Iowa to 1.2 yards per carry and Indiana at 2.7 yards per carry, which is all under the goal we have each week," Franklin said.
Looking toward Rutgers, Franklin noted that with every change in program's coaching staff, there's always a period of adjustment. Even with adjustment, Franklin was quick to point out that some point, things begin to "click," with the Scarlet Knights in possession of all the pieces to the puzzle to be successful.
"They've got a really good staff, they've got really good people, and they've got talent," Franklin said. "So at some point it's going to click for them offensively."
Quote Board -
- Penn State's Billy Fessler stepped into a starting role as a holder for the Nittany Lions at Indiana. Stepping into a position where chemistry and rhythm between the snapper, holder and kicker is of the utmost importance, here's what Franklin had to say about the kind student-athlete Fessler is.
"Making a change there and not ideal, but Billy's so respected in our program. As a vet, my relationship with Billy is really good. I really, really have grown to love and respect the guy. He's one of the guys that has a role on our team and really embraced the role."
- Penn State has come back from behind by double figures to win the game three times this year, a feat that has not been accomplished in a single season since at least 1970. Cornerback Christian Campbell described how the Nittany Lions have been able to remain calm under pressure.
"Really just keeping our head up. We've got leaders on the team that talk to us all the time. Like during a game if we're down, we've got leaders on the team that tell us to keep our head up. The game is not over. We've got a lot of minutes left. So anything can happen at any given time. So we've got to keep playing and playing hard."
- As a New Jersey native, tight end Mike Gesicki is excited to play in front of the hometown crowd. Here's what he remembers from his first trip to Piscataway.
"I remember playing there my freshman year, and they have a lot of talent. They're going to come out there and it's going to be a big game for both sides. We're just excited for another opportunity to play another Big Ten team. I'm personally excited to go back to New Jersey, play a game close to home. This is a great opportunity for us."
- Franklin has high hopes for Nittany Lion wide receiver Irvin Charles, who has matured in many ways since he arrived on campus. Whether its been on special teams or making plays on offense, we've already seen glimpses this season.
"I think you're going to see over the next couple years Irvin Charles has a very, very bright future. He is talented, talented, talented, maybe the most talented wide receiver I've ever been around. We all saw the catch that he had and what he was able to do with it once he got the ball in his hands. But there's a lot more that goes into it than that. So we're looking for other ways to get the ball in his hands and give him a chance to make the play."
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