#9 Penn State (8-2, 6-1 Big Ten) vs. Rutgers (2-8, 0-7)
I don’t want to jinx the Nittany Lions, because providing the Scarlet Knights’ first conference win would be the embarrassment of all embarrassments. Still, I’ve got to say that I likely haven’t seen as putrid a season’s performance as Rutgers’ this year. Therefore, we’ll consider this a bye week, tantamount to playing a scrimmage before a home crowd, just for the hell of it.
Big Ten opponents have outscored the Scarlet O’Haras 290-73, and although it is hard to imagine a program that is in worse shape than Maryland, Purdue, Illinois, and Moo U., Rutgers is it. They’re so pathetic that ESPN, who typically have a comment for all occasions, said the following in their Big Ten Power Rankings:
14. Rutgers (2-8, 0-7): Mama said if you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.
Well, my mama passed away five years ago, so I can say what I want to say with impunity. Not nice, I know, but here goes, Lawrence — I’ve been saving up some “U’s” for this one:
Rutgers could muster no points at all against Ohio State, Michigan, and Moo U., losing by the scores of 58-0, 78-0, and 49-0. For Sparty last week, the encounter was doubly fortunate, as it broke a seven game losing streak.
On their best day, the Scarlet Nights (sic — a vague allusion to the red-light districts of the past) could probably barely muster a win against the Secaucus Sisters of the Poor.
Is this a rivalry game?
However, the Big Ten is trying to make it half a rivalry for Penn State and Moo U., alternating with Maryland for the final game of the year. As I mentioned in my rivalry article, that blows big time. What you can expect to see for this so-called contrived rivalry is a High Point Stadium three-quarters full of Penn State fans. It’ll have a home game atmosphere — anything but rivalrous. And yeah, I made that word up.
They’re purportedly playing this one in prime-time based on the 8 PM kickoff, but there’s just something about BTN prime time that says it ain’t real prime time. Hell, we’re liable to get Matt Millen again as color analyst. I don’t know about you, but I don’t regard Matt as one of PSU’s more articulate products. I’d rather see Spice Adams, a recent BTN hire, in the broadcast booth. I hope they’re training him for the job. He’s hilarious.
And isn’t the BTN the outfit that spent lots of time during the PSU-Indiana game covering some kids trying to get some wayward footballs out of a fir tree? Do they call those “firballs”? Yeah, I guess I can empathize with the Fox production crew in this case. The damn game was boring as hell when the easily distracted director switched to Firball Cam.
When the forthcoming game doesn’t provide much to talk about, I get like this. Pure bullshit mode is what it is. I run off at the keyboard, but what the hell? It’s my blog, so I can do whatever the hell I want, even if the net effect is reducing my readership from six to four! Trying to find interesting things to write about a crappy opponent is almost like dancing with a midget broad. Whatever you say to her goes right over her head, but her head is right where you want it to be. How that applies here, I know not. I guess I just wanted to lace this prosaic post with non-sequiturs reminiscent of James Franklin’s press conferences. But I digress.
I can think this way, but they can’t!
As I said, it would be beyond embarrassing if Rutgers were to even score any points, let alone play competitively. The danger is in the young Nittany Lions letting their back-door #9 ranking and the 27.5-point spread go to their heads and getting into a “we can’t lose” mindset. They will have to show up and play.
Perhaps Iowa, Minnesota, and Indiana were cocky enough to believe they didn’t have to play. Although they all won, the scores were 14-7, 34-32, and 33-27, respectively. Folks, I hope James Franklin can juice his team up for the Rutgers game like Jim Harbaugh, Urban Meyer, and Mark Dantonio did with theirs to produce their shutout results. Anything less than a shutout is unacceptable.
The preceding paragraph’s name droppage is merely flashing my ability to recall the names of some Big Ten head coaches. When my memory actually works, I display it with pride. When it doesn’t, I make shit up. See? But I digress yet again.
All right, maybe the shutout is a stretch, but they sure as hell better hadn’t get caught with their pants down. The Big Ten Championship game is so tantalizingly near, but yet so far. Two games and an Ohio State win over Michigan stand in the Nittany Lions’ way between being a conference also-ran and being in the big game. They can’t do anything about Ohio State and Michigan, but they need to show up ready to play against Rutgers and Moo U. Focus, boys!
The sweet low-down: how low can you go?
You can go pretty low in the case of Rutgers. Their rushing defense, for example, ranks 124th out of 128 FBS teams. If the Penn State offensive line can manage to do a halfway credible job, Saquon Barkley could have a field day. The Scarlet Knights will probably load up the box to dare Trace McSorley to pass, but the Rutgers passing efficiency defense ranks 106th. PSU has got them coming and going — on paper. Barkley has 1,113 yards rushing, while Rutgers has given up 2,513, the absolute worst in the Big Ten.
Offensive numbers are similarly fetid for Rutgers. Oy, vey! They’re 127th in total offense. Behind the running of senior running back Justin Goodwin, the Scarletinas manage to rank as high as a tie for 88th in rushing offense. Goodwin has 98 attempts for 411 yards this season, an average of 4.2 ypc. His best game was a 97 yard effort against Minnesota. Good luck to him against the Big Ten’s ninth best rushing defense, which is at least better than Rutgers’ fourteenth place run-stoppers or sieves or whatever you want to call them.
The Scarlet Knights’ passing offense is even worse, ranking 122nd nationally and, of course, last in the conference. After the Illinois game, Rutgers switched Italians at quarterback, replacing senior Chris Laviano with red-shirt sophomore Giovanni Rescigno. (Fuggedaboudit! I think that the late Tony Soprano must be pulling da strings here — see below. By the way, anybody heard from Laviano since the Illinois game?). Rescigno has completed 52.8% of his passes for 638 yards, with five touchdowns and five interceptions in his four games at the helm. Just in case you were wondering, Laviano stood at 48.3% when he sat down or when he took a ride in the woods. Whatever.
What Penn State needs to improve.
Yeah, the third-down crap needs to improve, man. You might patiently explain to me that this is a big-play offense that doesn’t have to convert many third downs, but I’m calling bullshit on that. Against defenses like Maryland and Rutgers, maybe you don’t have to convert many, but in tough games with tough defenses where the offense must grind it out, the short game is like totally important, man.
The good news is that the Nittany Lions have improved, albeit slightly. Now, they are ranked fifth from the bottom in the FBS, and they’re out of the Big Ten cellar, thanks to Illinois. Penn State’s third-down percentage is now 28.5%, a full 4.0% better than last place Bowling Green.
The Nittany Lions now look pretty good in turnover margin, with a +5, thanks to Indiana’s five fumbles. It’s middle of the pack in the Big Ten, particularly when compared with B10 leader Ohio State at +12, but it’s out of negative territory and on the upswing. Let’s keep it that way! Rutgers stands at -5, so perhaps our defense can get them to cough up a few. In the Moo U. game, in which they barely had possession of the ball, Rescigno managed to throw two interceptions while the Spartans had no turnovers at all.
Of course, the disarray on the Penn State offensive line needs to get fixed. This will be a good game to get back on track.
Finally, how about surprising the shit out of us by playing four good quarters instead of waking up for the second half or worse, just before the fourth quarter, as in the Indiana game?
Extraneous Bullshit — Alumnus of the Week
No, Skip, I’m not going to feature Asia Carrera this year. Sorry. *
This week’s alumnus of the week is the late James Joseph Gandolfini, Jr. (1961 – 2013), an American actor whose most famous role was that of Tony Soprano, leader of a mafia crime family in New Jersey. The Sopranos stands as one of the best crime drama series ever produced for television.
Gandolfini garnered great praise for his performance, winning three Emmy Awards, three Screen Actors’ Guild Awards, and one Golden Globe Award.
Born in Westwood, New Jersey to an Italian immigrant bricklayer father and an American mother, a high school cafeteria lunch lady who was raised in Naples, Gandolfini was about as authentically New Jersey Italian as it gets. They spoke Italian in his house as he was growing up. He graduated from Park Ridge High School in 1979, and from Rutgers in 1982. He earned a BA in Communications there.
Sadly, the world lost a treasure in 2013, when Gandolfini unexpectedly died of a heart attack in Rome.
Right now, da fuckin’ forecast calls for Saturday to be mostly sunny and nice with a high of 64°F and a low around 42°F. Good wedda for a one-way drive in da country, capisce? Fuggedaboudit!
The Bottom Line
As I previously stated, on paper this one is already in the win column. However, the temptation to “mail it in” could wreck that whole notion. I’m somewhat worried that this young team will take Rutgers too lightly, like Cousin Chris took Tony Soprano too lightly. We don’t want to see the Nittany Lions getting whacked like Chris, so they best be vigilant, focused, and committed to earning a victory.
Having said all that, look at the damn spread, will you? Penn State is favored by 27½ points, already. The over/under is set ridiculously high at 62. This suggests a Penn State victory of leviathan proportions as viewed by the bookies, and if you don’t pay up they’ll break your legs, so you better listen. Yeah, on paper, it’s about 45-17, but on the field, it’ll be more like Penn State 52, Rutgers 3. Take the under.
I’ll be back after the game with some impertinent comments and the obligatory Turkey Wrap.
*But wait, there’s more. Skip has been having some health issues, so I felt bad about not favoring him with a picture of Asia Carrera, who attended Rutgers. He might have been looking forward to this week and I don’t want to disappoint him, although I couldn’t disappoint him anywhere near as much as the Cornhuskers did in their recent loss to tOSU. Anyhow, for you, Skip, here’s a couple of “then and now” pictures of dat broad Asia Carrera, née Jessica Steinhauser: