football Edit

Highs & Lows: Rutgers

Penn State is on a winning streak.

Securing a 23-7 decision at Rutgers on Saturday afternoon, the Nittany Lions improved to 2-5 on the 2020 season.

BWI editor Nate Bauer examines the moments that gave Penn State the edge against the Scarlet Knights in his weekly Highs and Lows column, here:

Penn State Nittany Lions Football
RB Keyvone Lee had 95 yards rushing against Rutgers. (AP Images)

PLAYER OF THE GAME Keyvone Lee and JaQuan Brisker both get this week’s honor. Lee finished with 95 yards on 17 carries, including when he made the play of the game in the fourth quarter, as part of a 248-yard rushing afternoon for the Nittany Lions. Brisker, meanwhile, didn’t fill up the stat sheet with just four tackles and a pass breakup, but he was consistently around the football and making plays for Penn State’s defense.

PLAY OF THE GAME Backed against their end zone, the Nittany Lions turned to Lee for a simple inside draw on second-and-8 that the true freshman made count. Patient through the line, Lee took off through the Scarlet Knights’ defense to upend the Lions’ field position conundrum and produce the biggest offensive play of a stagnant second half. The carry was good for a huge, 31-yard chunk play, tacked on by a 15-yard horse-collar penalty charged to Rutgers, to send possession to the Knights’ side of the field.

BEST PASS The play was there from the jump, Sean Clifford simply had to execute. On second-and-9 at the Rutgers’ 29 late in the first quarter, Penn State’s quarterback dropped back to pass, let receiver Parker Washington operate, and delivered a perfectly timed pass in-stride on an unimpeded trip into the end zone to take a 7-0 lead.

BEST RUN Lee’s carry easily gets the nod here. In a second half that had been abysmal for the Nittany Lion offense to that point, the carry helped propel Penn State to a crucial 16-point advantage on a chip shot field goal.

BEST CATCH With nowhere to go, Penn State’s defense closing in on a backpedaling Noah Vedral, the Rutgers quarterback unloaded a prayer to the middle of the end zone and a waiting horde of Nittany Lion defenders. Boxed into an untenable position by Rutgers receiver Bo Melton, Penn State couldn’t make the play as the Scarlet Knights managed to produce their first points of the afternoon, cutting into the Nittany Lions’ lead at 20-7. Melton later made a head-over-heels reception in the fourth quarter, leaving the receiver injured momentarily near the Nittany Lions’ sideline.

WORST DROP Devyn Ford’s opening kickoff return could not have gone worse for Penn State. Unable to wrangle the ball in the air, the Nittany Lions’ running back was forced to dive on it four yards later at Penn State’s 10-yard line. KeAndre Lambert-Smith’s screen pass drop on third down later in the possession earns a nod here as well. For Rutgers, Melton also dropped a crucial fourth-quarter pass in his hands in the fourth quarter.

BEST SACK Penn State only got to Noah Vedral twice Saturday, but Daequan Hardy’s untouched blitz from the blindside proved to be a big one. Bringing Vedral down for a loss of 7 on a third-and-6, the Scarlet Knights were forced to return possession to the Nittany Lions. D’Von Ellies added a second sack to close out the game.

BEST HIT It wasn’t a sack, but Antonio Shelton unloaded on Vedral on third-and-7 from the Scarlet Knights’ 29-yard line in the second quarter. Floating one, apparently hoping for a pass coverage breakdown or a pass interference call, Vedral was immediately met by the Lions’ fifth-year senior and slammed to the turf. Brisker’s shot on a deep pass directed to Shameen Jones at the end of the first half also earns a spot here.

BEST EFFORT Keaton Ellis’ fourth-quarter pass breakup set an important tone for the Nittany Lions’ defense in the fourth quarter as the Scarlet Knights were generating some momentum.

BEST KICK Coming off Rutgers’ opening-possession turnover in the second half, Jordan Stout’s field goal might not have been the optimal result, but from 47 yards, it easily split the uprights and gave the Nittany Lions a 20-0 lead. Adam Korsak’s 62-yard punt for Rutgers in the fourth quarter was tremendous, too.

BEST DECISION Give me your worst, folks, but Penn State shut down anything resembling an offense in the second half and did so intentionally, and it was probably the right thing to do. The only opportunity for Rutgers to get back into the game was through Penn State’s mistakes, so Penn State decided it wasn’t going to do anything to give Rutgers that opportunity. That meant a painfully bland and conservative offensive approach, but it proved successful as the Nittany Lions would have shut out the Knights without Clifford’s interception on his side of the field.

WORST DECISION Referee John O’Neill didn’t need much time to decide that Ford’s second-quarter fumble had been corralled, in-bounds, by Rutgers, despite video evidence suggesting otherwise. Clear pass interference on a downfield pass directed to Jahan Dotson in the fourth quarter also warrants a mention here.

MOST TELLING MOMENT Facing a fourth-and-6 at Penn State’s 25, Vedral had no chance to convert his designed QB draw. Swallowed up by Jesse Luketa and Judge Culpepper, the stop effectively ended any Rutgers opportunity at a comeback.

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