Five Things We Learned: Penn State vs. Rutgers
The Scarlet Knights entered a blue and white striped crowd Saturday to face the Nittany Lions under the lights, where they were met by 103,323 fans at Beaver Stadium. Here is what we found out about Penn State in their 28-3 rout:
1. Hackenberg no longer “the man” on offense
If anything is apparent after the first three weeks of the season, it is how the offense has taken a predominant turn towards making the run game now its heart and soul.
While Hackenberg threw for a season high 136 yards in just the first half, he finished the game by adding only one more completion for 5 yards and an interception. The junior QB attempted fewer than 20 passes for only the second time in his career and is now averaging 10.75 less attempts and 107.7 less yards per game than his career average.
Whether the reason be the emergence of star freshman Saquon Barkley and a rushing offense which put up 330 yards Saturday, or a lack of confidence in the QB from the coaching staff, Hackenberg is now playing second fiddle to the ground game.
2. O-line has regained its confidence
After allowing 10 sacks in week one, the offensive line has successfully shut down opposing rushers for two weeks straight.
Hackenberg stayed off the ground once again and the rushing attack had two rushers over 100 yards with Saquon Barkley earning 195 yards and Akeel Lynch getting 120, respectively.
After facing widespread criticism, the o-line has stepped up and made the Penn State offense respectable for the first time this season after nearly 500 yards of total offense.
3. Special team is making an impact
Many were skeptical of the special teams squad coming into the season, but they have come together and helped out both sides of the ball.
Punter Chris Gulla found his way onto the field for the first time this season and earned himself James Franklin’s game ball after pinning Rutgers inside their own 20 five times.
On the flip-side, returners DeAndre Thompkins and Nick Scott have been making big returns after having a combined three returns of 30 yards or more in the past two weeks, including two for 58 yards.
Lastly, kicker Joe Julius is having a solid season thus far in the shadow left by Sam Ficken, being flawless on all 8 PAT attempts and being 3-4 on FG attempts. Continued production like this from the special teams could end up being the difference in close games later this season.
4. Defensive line takes the defense to the next level
Once again, the defense is putting the team on its back this season, and it all starts with the defensive line.
The combination of Zettel, Johnson, Nassib and Sickels poses a ferocious front four for any team that will play them this season, as they are third in the nation in sacks and allow the secondary and linebackers to make plays by forcing pressure on opposing fronts.
Last night they helped force three turnovers and will help keep Penn State competing in every game.
5. Expect Penn State to continue their success
Now that they are on the right track and a seemingly cohesive unit, Penn State should have no problem rolling through the next few games as they face the weakest part of their schedule.
The next three weeks they will play San Diego State, Army and Indiana before they play No. 1 Ohio State. Unless they run into a speed bump along the way, they should have a solid chance of building up confidence leading into their biggest game of the season.
Ryan Berti is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.