After slow start, PSU blows out Rutgers

Photo credit Penn State’s Mike Gesicki hurdles Rutgers’ Saquon Hampton while following behind blockers DeAndre Thompkins (3) and Juwan Johnson (84) Saturday evening in Piscataway, NJ.

PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Penn State played a sloppy first half.

It didn’t matter.

The Nittany Lions missed a ton of opportunities.

It didn’t matter.

No one really stood out on either side of the ball.

It didn’t matter.

None of that mattered because Rutgers was the opponent, and the Scarlet Knights just might be the worst major conference team in the country.

Penn State merely needed to avoid a meltdown of epic proportions to get out of High Point Solutions Stadium with a win Saturday night. The Lions slogged through the first half, finally got things going in the second and wound up clobbering Rutgers, 39-0, before a crowd of 51,356, most of whom left early as rain started pouring late in the third quarter.

Now, all that matters is next week’s opponent, Michigan State, with an enormous amount riding on the game. The Lions, ranked No. 8 in the College Football Playoff poll, have a chance to reach the Big Ten championship game and possibly the Final Four if everything goes their way the next two weeks.

“We’re focused on Michigan State … nothing else exists,” coach James Franklin, speaking on BTN after the game, said after the win.

How bad is Rutgers? It was outscored this season 224-0 by Penn State, Michigan (78-0), Ohio State (58-0) and Michigan State (49-0).

How bad is Rutgers? In those four games, the Knights were outgained 2,258 yards to a meager 382.

Penn State outgained the Knights by a staggering total of 549 to 87.

In doing so, the Lions’ defense recorded its first shutout of the season.

“I think Brent Pry has done a great job all year long, as well as the whole defensive staff,” Franklin said of his coordinator.

Somehow, the score was only 9-0 at the half. The Lions had the ball in the red zone four times but came away with only nine points, and yet they were in complete and total control of the game.

“We are going to battle for four quarters,” Franklin said. “This is a crazy game. We’ve seen this all across the country. It isn’t always pretty.”

As has been the case many times this season, a turnover or key special teams play helped spark Penn State to a comfortable win.

The Lions stopped Rutgers on its first possession of the second half, then Juwan Johnson blocked a Michael Cintron punt, and Garrett Taylor recovered it at the Knights’ 10. On third down, Barkley stretched the ball out over the goal line for a score and 16-0 lead.

The rout was on, as Penn State, which has excelled in the second half all season, scored 30 points in the final two quarters to avoid any questions of why it didn’t bludgeon Rutgers.

Tyler Davis kicked his fourth and final field goal of the game midway through the third quarter to make it 19-0. Penn State’s next score came after the night’s scariest moment.

Barkley was injured on a 9-yard run to the Rutgers’ 5 late in the third. He took a blow to the head, didn’t return and was being checked in the concussion protocol on the sideline.

“Saquon’s fine,” Franklin said afterward, adding that the running back could have gone back in the game.

Andre Robinson finished off that drive with a 2-yard TD run, and after a bad snap botched the PAT, it was 25-0 with 2:01 to go in the third.

Mark Allen became the third running back to score on the night when he took a short pass and juked his way to a 27-yard touchdown with 7:59 to go.

That was McSorley’s final drive of the game. He finished 17-of-33 for 210 yards and one score, plus he ran 11 times for 55 yards.

“To be a 10-2 team, we need to win the next game,” McSorley said of his priorities.

Backup quarterback Tommy Stevens took over on the next series and led the Lions to their final score. He took it in himself from 12 yards out with 4:07 to go.

Stevens later had a 31-yard run on the final play of the game, and he finished with 61 yards on six carries.

Rutgers’ defense showed some promise in the first half, coming up with four stops in the red zone. Three led to field goals by Davis, while the Knights held the Lions on fourth-and-1 from the 2 as McSorley had to jump for a high snap and threw incomplete.

Knights quarterback Giovanni Rescigno completed 7-of-16 passes for just 48 yards, while backup Tylin Oden missed on his lone attempt. Their leading rusher, Justin Goodwin, gained only 20 yards on 10 carries.

The Lions finished with 339 yards rushing, no surprise given how much other teams have gouged the Knights on the ground. Rutgers came into the game with the fifth-worst rushing defense in the country. Miles Sanders was second to Barkley with 85 yards, on just five carries.

Rutgers actually had a chance to score in the early going after Sanders fumbled the opening kickoff, with the Knights recovering at the PSU 19. They went backwards, though, and David Bonagura missed a 45-yard field goal try.