Dark times follow Rutgers onto field in deflating 28-3 defeat at PSU
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — As heavy showers moved through Beaver Stadium in the second quarter on Saturday night, it felt as if the same dark cloud that has been following the Rutgers football team around for the past week lingered with the program out to central Pennsylvania.
Amid the off-field controversies surrounding the three-game suspension and $50,000 fine of head coach Kyle Flood, couple with the arrest of senior captain and star wide receiver Leonte Carroo for simple assault under domestic violence, the Scarlet Knights were adamant on leaving all of that behind them in when they trekked out to Penn State.
But when it rains, it pours.
After the Nittany Lions broke out for 21 points to follow a scoreless first quarter, they never looked back on their way to a 28-3 trouncing in a primetime matchup in front of a nationally televised audience on Big Ten Network.
Against an offensive line that surrendered 10 sacks in its season opener at Temple, Rutgers’ front seven couldn’t figure out how to apply the necessary pressure on Penn State junior quarterback Christian Hackenberg.
While he has been hyped by experts and analysts as a potential first round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, the Lions’ signal-caller wasn’t what hurt the Knights.
Hackenberg posted another pedestrian performance to what has been a slow season out of the gates in 2015, going 10-of-19 for 141 yards and an interception. But it was the running back duo of Akeel Lynch and Saquon Barkley that gashed Rutgers all night long.
“I don’t think (Penn State) threw the ball at all,” said senior defensive tackle Darius Hamilton, who made his season debut after a lower body injury kept him sidelined since the summer. “… The problem wasn’t getting to (Hackenberg), it was, like I said, we just got out-toughed today.”
The Knights (1-2, 0-1) couldn’t seem to get anything going anywhere in the Big Ten’s conference opener. With 103,323 watching — the third-largest crowd Rutgers has ever played in front of — the Knights folded.
Down 21-0 in the fourth quarter, interim head coach Norries Wilson elected to kick a short field goal from 34 yards out following a delay of game penalty rather than try to cut into the three-score deficit by getting into the end zone.
While he mentioned that the idea of going for the end zone on fourth down crossed his mind, Wilson stood by his decision to kick it instead.
“Well, I decided to kick it. It was … fourth-and-10 from the 11,” Wilson said, referring to the field position prior to the five-yard penalty. “We had just run what we thought was one of our very good choices in that distance, so we just looked to kick the field goal.”
Chris Laviano didn’t receive much help from a nonexistent rushing attack that managed an abysmal 43 yards on 32 carries and an offensive line that allowed five sacks, but the sophomore quarterback didn’t do much more to help his own cause.
The Glen Head, New York, native posted a final mark of 27-for-42 with 251 yards and two picks. His two interceptions highlighted an evening where the Knights’ signal-caller appeared to lack the velocity necessary to hit his receivers in stride.
“I’ve gotta get the ball out faster,” Laviano said. “I thought those guys did a good job up front handling their front. I think we gotta start out faster than we did.”
In the meantime, Penn State (2-1, 1-0) took advantage of Rutgers’ woes. A running game that posted a walloping 330 yards on 41 attempts powered the Lions on offense.
It’s unclear which runs embodied the Knights’ lack of ability to stop the up-tempo ground game worse — Lynch’s 75-yard touchdown rumble after Laviano’s second pick at the 1:04 mark before the end of the first half or Barkley’s 16-yard scamper into the end zone with 4:21 remaining in the ballgame.
Barkley, a true freshman, built off his explosive performance from last week with a career-high 195 yards and two scores on 21 carries. His running mate, Lynch, ripped off 120 yards and a touchdown on just 10 touches.
“I’ve got to address the team when I get back,” Hamilton said regarding the inability to stop the run. “A lot of people aren’t gonna want to hear it. But when you’ve got conditions like tonight … that’s mano-y-mano football. Those are things that you live for as a defense and we didn’t show up tonight.”
On the flipside for Rutgers, Josh Hicks averaged seven yards per carry to lead the charge. But the sophomore tailback wasn’t fed enough over the course of the contest with just seven touches for 49 yards.
Paul James, meanwhile, went backwards. After leading the Knights with 10 carries, he managed to post only seven yards on the ground.
But the senior tailback said he didn’t feel as if the distribution at the position — sophomore Robert Martin had five carries for 20 yards — altered the game plan’s rhythm.
“I feel like it’s a great thing that we rotate the backs,” the senior captain said. “It keeps fresh legs out there and it keeps the defense running.”
For Rutgers, the good news starts and ends with the fact that it returns back to Piscataway for homecoming against a winless, reeling football program in Kansas (0-2).
So this isn’t rock bottom.
But taking a peak past the light matchup at High Point Solutions Stadium, a Big Ten gauntlet featuring the likes of No. 4 Michigan State, No. 1 Ohio State and No. 24 Wisconsin lingers in the distance — and it’s a lot closer than it may feel with the Spartans coming to town Oct. 10.
The Knights can’t do much more than continue to follow their suspended coach’s mantra of going 1-0 while he’s allowed to be around the team’s midweek game preparations from Monday through Friday.
But if this result was any preview, Rutgers fans might need to buckle up for the potential turbulence ahead.
“We had a great message out here today. We really wanted to come out here and get some things accomplished,” Hamilton said. “Some days the dog bites you, some days you bite the dog.”
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