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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."
By Arielle Sargent, GoPSUSports.com
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State's road win on Saturday featured no shortage of resilient performances and gutsy plays as the Nittany Lions rallied past Indiana.
A quick glance at the score sheet from Saturday's win doesn't do Saquon Barkley's performance justice. With 58 yards on 33 carries and 98 all-purpose yards, one might argue that it was perhaps one of his least productive outings this year.
That's far from the case though, as Barkley opened the game grabbing a 32-yard catch from quarterback Trace McSorley on third-and-7 to set Penn State up for a touchdown on the opening drive.
While the Hoosier defense looked to bottle up his dynamic play, Barkley broke free for a 12-yard carry on the first attempt of Penn State's opening drive of the fourth quarter. Following McSorley's 54-yard pass to DaeSean Hamilton, Barkley was back at it. It didn't come easy though as he was pushed back for a loss of one before running in for the 4-yard touchdown.
With Indiana leading, 31-28, with nearly seven minutes to go, Barkley ran for 13 yards out to put Penn State on the Indiana 2-yard line before running in for the go-ahead touchdown.
"The only thing that kept going through my head was patience, patience and taking care of the ball and ball security," Barkley said. "As a running back not everything is going to go your way, they did a really good job with the game plan."
Barkley's 13 rushing touchdowns are the most for a Nittany Lions since Larry Johnson had 20 in 2002 and also rank eighth in Penn State program history. Barkley's 15 total touchdowns this year (13 rushing, 2 receiving) are ranked first in the Big Ten and ninth nationally, respectively.
He's also atop the Big Ten standings averaging 142.10 all-purpose yards in addition to 1,113 rushing yards and 111.3 rushing yards per game.
Explosive Plays When It Matters
McSorley enters the week atop the FBS standings in passing yards per completion, averaging 15.93 ypc. On the year, McSorley has completed 40 passes for at least 20 yards, including six against the Hoosiers.
As Penn State struggled with its run game against the Hoosiers, Franklin noted postgame that he was pleased with the poise of the offense in long yardage situations.
"I thought the most important thing we did was, we didn't panic, our defense kept us in the game so we didn't have to get in a situation where we are chucking it every down," Franklin said. "It was a gutsy, gutsy win on the road."
Defense Does It Again
As Franklin noted, Penn State's defense remained calm and confident under pressure. Penn State's rejuvenated linebacker unit combined for 1.5 sacks, highlighted by Brandon Bell's fourth-quarter sack that led to Indiana's fifth fumble of the day before defensive end Torrence Brown scooped up the loose ball for the 9-yard touchdown.
Perhaps one of the most pivotal defensive plays came in the third quarter, where Indiana intercepted a McSorley pass before driving to the 1-yard line. With the Hoosiers leading 17-14 on fourth-and-goal, a diving Brandon Smith broke up Indiana quarterback Richard Lagow's pass intended for Nick Westbrook in the end zone.
Quick Look At Rutgers
Penn State travels to Rutgers for its second consecutive week on the road. The Nittany Lions square off against the Scarlet Knights in their third night game of the season, with kickoff set for 8 p.m. on BTN. With Penn State on a six-game winning streak, Rutgers enters the matchup looking to snap its seven-game skid.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -
Following the win on the road at Indiana, Penn State football head coach
James Franklin addressed the team in the locker room with one message - that
the Nittany Lions had once again found a way to win.
"We're a young team who's growing every single week and we find ways to win. All different ways. You look at our entire season - each win has been different, but we found a way to do it."
Looking at Penn State's six-game winning streak, the Nittany Lions have battled back from double figures not once, not twice, but three times after the Indiana comeback. The Nittany Lions engineered a 10-point comeback with an overtime victory against Minnesota before rallying from behind by 14 points in the thrilling victory against then-No. 2 Ohio State.
Sparked by wide receiver Chris Godwin's 21-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Trace McSorley at the end of the third quarter, the Nittany Lions outscored the Hoosiers 31-7 in a span of 16:09 on the way to a third double figure comeback this season. No other Penn State squad has battled back three times from a double-digit deficit in a single season since at least 1970.
The will to win and the desire to persevere are all things McSorley said are simply engrained in the mindset of the team this year, as he also gave credit to the leaders on the team for their ability to set the tone for belief under pressure.
"Just that mentality that this team has, that never say die, never quit attitude that's the biggest thing," McSorley said. "Yeah we were down 10, we've been down by double-digits multiple times late in games, but there's never that feeling like we can't come back from this."
On a six-game winning streak, the Nittany Lions have tallied the most consecutive Big Ten victories in the same season since 1994.
Check out a few more takeaways from the 45-31 win on the road at Indiana.
McSorley's Resilient Performance
Quarterback Trace McSorley turned in a gutsy performance Saturday completing 16-of-30 attempts for 332 passing yards, marking his third 300-yard passing performance, which ranks fourth in program history.
McSorley opened the game with a 10-yard rushing touchdown to give the Nittany Lions their third consecutive score on the opening drive.
McSorley dazzled in the second half with a few long yardage plays through the air in the clutch, including a 43-yard pass to Saeed Blacknall to set up the 21-yard touchdown grab from Godwin in the third quarter.
McSorley has scored a rushing touchdown and a has thrown for a score in six games this season. Only Louisville quarterback and Heisman contender Lamar Jackson has accomplished the feat more frequently this season (8 times).
"I wanted him to take a knee a couple of times so we could make a substitution and he kind of waved me off," Franklin said. "He hobbled down the field. He is tough, he is smart, he is resilient, he's a playmaker."
McSorley was at it again in the fourth quarter, targeting wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton on a perfect executed flea-flicker to set the Nittany Lions up for a 4-yard touchdown run from Saquon Barkley to bring Penn State ahead, 28-24.
Taking Advantage of Turnovers
Penn State took advantage of five Indiana turnovers, marking the most opponent miscues since last year's Maryland game.
The Nittany Lions recovered all five Indiana fumbles, converting two into touchdowns. Adding to the comeback, defensive end Torrence Brown picked up his third career fumble in the fourth quarter, returning it nine yards for his first career touchdown.
Check in with the Nittany Lions for updates following the win.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State football head coach James Franklin met with the media following the Nittany Lion road win at Indiana.
Full press conference below.
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