Happy Monday, to you, my small but select audience of Sanguinarians and Cynics. We come here not to praise Caesar but to bury him. That, of course, was a non-sequitur, which is this crazy-ass turkey’s occasional predilection, as it were. That, and pure bullshit, but I digress.
On a striped-out, soggy, prime-time Saturday at Beaver Stadium (to the extent that BTN can really produce enough of an audience to be considered prime anything), the mighty, resurgent Penn State Nittany Lions (2-1, 1-0 Big Ten) delivered a proverbial ass-kicking to the depleted, hapless, and coachless Rutgers Scarlet Knights (1-2, 0-1 Big Ten) to open the conference schedule as the lengthy home stand continued for the Lions. The final score in this “convincing” win by the Nits was 28-3.
Last week’s Buffalo story was titled “A Star is Born.” This week, that star, true freshman running back Saquon Barkley, shone even brighter, as the lad ran for 195 yards and two touchdowns. Akeel Lynch added a “mere” 120 yards on 10 carries and a touchdown, while DeAndre Thompkins also ran one in for a score. On a rainy night, the running game worked, and the Five Traffic Cones were actually seen creating holes and holding blocks.
“I think Saquon Barkley has brought something to our offense. I think him and Akeel [Lynch] are a nice one-two punch right now,” head coach James Franklin was heard to say. Well, duh!
Barkley was named Big Ten Co-Freshman of the Week for a second week in a row. His co-puppy is safety Jonathan Crawford of Indiana.
The performance by Penn State was uneven, to be sure, and much work remains to be done on the passing game. Neither team scored in the first quarter, which found me wishing I hadn’t told my hosts that we’d prefer to eat at halftime. A first quarter dinner would have caused me to miss nothing and we would have been able to turn on Ole Miss vs. Alabama at halftime instead of eating. But I digress. Penn State scored 21 points in the second quarter, which would have been enough to win seven times over. The second half was for the most part a sleeper, especially after dinner at halftime with one score each by the two combatants in the fourth quarter.
Weather aside, there was lots of sloppiness by both sides. Penn State was penalized eight times for 80 damn yards, while Rutgers was also penalized eight times for 29 yards. Rutgers had three turnovers to Penn State’s single interception.
Our boy Christian Hackenberg was 10-19 for a measly 141 yards with one ugly interception and no touchdowns. The ball that was intercepted was an ill-advised throw into double coverage and it floated like a wobbly, wavering, wacky, wounded duck. Of course, the ball was probably wet, which made the throw all the more ill-advised. Some of Hack’s throws at the feet of receivers and over their heads looked as ugly is it gets. Of course, again, we’ll hear that it was raining. Good thing! At least the running game was effective. And to the credit of the Traffic Cones, Hack’s jersey stayed clean, if not dry. The Cones haven’t yielded a sack in the past two games. However, through three cupcakes, Hack hasn’t yet had a 200-yard passing game.
Several special teams rays of hope emerged as Chris Gulla took over the punting duties and rendered a competent performance, punting five times for 205 yards, with a long of 52. Meanwhile, Joey “Big Toe” Julius continues to impress with his unorthodox body and style. From string-bean Sam “The Schnozz” Ficken to Julius’ 5-10, 258 lb corpulent corpus, Penn State has run the full gamut of kicker morphology in two seasons. Eight of Julius’ 14 kickoffs have resulted in touchbacks. Cap this off with the nullification of Rutgers’ dangerous return man Janarion Grant, and you have a squad that actually borders on being effective, for a change!
The defense did a competent job, holding Rutgers to 43 yards net rushing, which includes a -37 yard total for hapless Rutgers quarterback Chris “Fake ID” Laviano, who seemed to continue the fine work of Gary “Turn” Nova of last year, having been sacked five times, although his mere two interceptions could not hold a candle to Nova’s five. Laviano wound up 27-42 for 251 yards, no touchdowns, and the aforementioned two interceptions.
There was much pre-game concern about Rutgers’ all-around future NFL Hall of Famer Janarion Grant, who had just come off a 300+ yard individual performance against Washington State. The Penn State defense and special teams put the clamps on Grant, holding him to 29 all-purpose yards. Well done, Big D!
While PSU outgained Rutgers 471 to 294 total yards and won the turnover battle, other stats are not so favorable. You know where I’m going here, don’t you? Rutgers had 20 first downs to Penn State’s 17, and time of possession was in Rutgers’ favor by about five minutes, indicating Penn State big plays coupled with absence of sustained drives. The Lions were 4-12 in third down conversions and 0-2 in fourth down conversions. Penn State had three three-and-out plays and one four-and-out against the depleted Rutgers defense, all terminating with incomplete passes. Hack and his receivers still do not appear to be in sync.
We got to see PSU backup quarterback Trace McSorley hand the ball off a few times during garbage time, which is a good thing. A few reps are better than none at all.
In spite of a satisfying victory, I’ll repeat the need for work toward a more consistent passing game. It is too easy to sit back and rest on the laurels of a 28-3 victory assuming that all is well in the program. Even Sandy Barbour looks like a swimsuit model in the glow of a 28-3 victory. But hark to the words of the late, sainted Joseph V. Paterno, who said, “You’re never as good as you think you are when you win…” Only four more wins for Toilet Bowl eligibility, and two of them look pretty certain.
I’ll be back with a preview and prediction of our next cupcake, San Diego State. The Lions have opened as a 12-point favorite over the Aztecs.