Rutgers fails to stop run, get own rushing attack kickstarted in 28-3 loss to Penn State
Three quarters of the matchup between the Rutgers football team and Penn State last night were hotly contested. But in college football, teams play four.
Rutgers (1-2, 0-1) was ripped for 21 points and 211 yards of offense by the Nittany Lions (2-1, 1-0) in the second stanza. And despite some spirited drives for the Knights in the second half, the game's outcome was decided in the second quarter.
After an initially promising drive for Rutgers down 14-0, the Knights' stalled at their own 37. After a Joey Roth punt, Penn State took over at its own 25. On the Lions' next play from scrimmage, they put the game out of reach.
"I didn’t catch a deficiency," said Rutgers interim head coach Norries Wilson. "We happened to have that big 80-yard, I think it was 80 yards — it might’ve been 70 and that changed the complexity somewhat more than it already had been."
It was a 75-yard run by senior tailback Akeel Lynch, right after Penn State received Roth’s punt, that broke the backs of the boys from the Banks.
"They drove the ball on us the first couple times to get those first two touchdowns that they got in the second quarter," Wilson said. "And we couldn’t put anything together consistently to keep a drive going outside the one that we had in the first quarter."
To put it into perspective, the stats for both teams outside of the second quarter fell dramatically in the Knights' favor. Rutgers racked up 249 yards of offense in quarters one, three and four combined. But in the second, they managed a mere 45.
Meanwhile, Penn State gashed the Rutgers defense up the middle with the run, chewing up 211 total yards of turf in the second period as 103,323 fans striping Beaver Stadium in blue and white cheered the home team on.
“I just think, as a defense, we didn’t execute well enough,” said senior linebacker Quentin Gause. “We just gotta come out next week and do that better.”
Gause did his best to fill the gaps in the tattered defense, racking up eight total tackles with five solos and one for a loss.
“It’s frustrating,” Gause said. “All you can do is go back … and get ready for the next game. That’s all you can do. I just think it was some detail breakdowns.”
Junior Julian Pinnix-Odrick, who has started the first three games for Rutgers at defensive tackle in place of injured Darius Hamilton, called himself out after the 28-3 defeat.
“I’m gonna do what I can, personally, to make sure I’m a tougher football player than I was tonight,” Pinnix-Odrick said. “And I’m going to do what I can to try to be as much of a leader as guys need me to be to get better from this.”
What may be worse than the 25-point defeat — the Knights schedule only gets tougher from here. After a soft landing with homecoming next week against Kansas, Rutgers takes on the nation’s titans in conference foes No. 4 Michigan State (Oct. 10) and defending national champion and unanimous No. 1 Ohio State (Oct. 24).
But don’t expect "JPO" to make excuses for the Knights as long as he stays in the starting lineup. In his eyes, the off-field distractions surrounding the team had no bearing on this result.
“There’s no way to sugarcoat it, there’s no way to sugarcoat it," he said. "As much as we’d like to think something distracted us — there was no distractions, it was us. We got outplayed.”
After imposing their will on opposing defenses with the run in the first two games, the Scarlet Knights' stable of backs came up limp in Happy Valley Saturday night.
In a complete role reversal, Penn State's tandem of senior Akeel Lynch and true freshman Saquon Barkley decimated the Rutgers defense with backbreaking run after backbreaking run. And what's worse, on many of those runs, nary a Knight made contact with the Nittany Lions' ball-carrier.
PSU gauged the interior of the Rutgers defense, biting off huge chunks of yardage as easily as the fans in Nittanyville knocked back solo cups full of beer.
“When you don’t perform, or you perform poorly — I personally performed poorly — you just gotta keep it trucking and that’s part of being a man,” Pinnix-Odrick said. “You have to know when you’ve made mistakes, you have to know when you’ve lost and you gotta keep it pushing.”
The Knights were the ones getting pushed, while the Lions ripped Rutgers for 330 rushing yards with Lynch (120 yards) and Barkley (195 yards) busting through to the secondary on a regular basis.
Junior safety Davon Jacobs tallied six solo tackles, five of which saved likely touchdowns when Lynch or Barkley broke off big runs.
On the other side of the ball, the Knights' strength became their weakness as their three-headed monster in the backfield — senior Paul James and sophomores Robert Martin and Josh Hicks — looked more like a wounded lapdog. And interim head coach Norries Wilson noticed.
“I think that, on offense, we gotta be able to live by one of our first tenets,” Wilson said. “We gotta be able to run the football and we gotta be able to block the guy and move the person against his will. We gotta run the ball better.”
Rutgers managed only 43 rushing yards for the game after averaging 244.5 yards on the ground coming into the Big Ten opener. The lack of run production could be attributed to the loss of a stalwart on the interior of the Knights' offensive line.
Junior right guard Chris Muller, who started 16 straight games at the position, was helped off the field in the second quarter with an apparent lower body injury. Muller was seen on the sidelines on crutches in the second half.
James, a fifth-year senior who’s battled injuries throughout his career on the Banks, may have had his worst performance to date — 10 carries for 7 yards.
“We just kinda struggled,” James said. “We weren’t really executing the game plan. It took us awhile to get going. It felt like there were a lot of guys in the box.”
His intuition was accurate. The Nittany Lions lined up as many as nine, but mostly eight defenders in the box to negate the Knights' running threats.
“We did make adjustments,” James said. “We talked about it (at halftime) and we came out, tried to change up some things and it started to open up a little more. But it was too late.”
The biggest surprise of last night's 28-3 drubbing at Beaver Stadium was not the way the Nittany Lions ran roughshod over the Rutgers defense, nor was it that Penn State's prized quarterback prospect Christian Hackenberg had another underwhelming performance.
A little more than an hour before the Knights and Lions were set to clash helmets in Happy Valley, Rutgers fifth-year senior captain and defensive tackle Darius Hamilton was upgraded from "out" to "probable" on the Knights' injury report.
Hamilton had missed the team's first two contests with a lower body injury — one that some thought might be so debilitating that the talk of a redshirt season for the West Paterson, New Jersey, native began to make the rounds on the rumor mill.
It wasn't his best performance and he was clearly limited — Hamilton estimated he was only out there for 15 plays — but his presence on the field is paramount for a team missing its best offensive weapon in wide receiver Leonte Carroo and its head coach in Kyle Flood as both were suspended.
“I tell you I was excited for Darius to get back out to play,” Wilson said. “He had been chomping at the bit to come out and play. I left it to coach Panagos and coach Flood. They talked about how many plays he would have in the rotation. So I’m sure (defensive line) coach (Jim) Panagos kept him to that.”
After his first game in 2015, Hamilton was noticeably haggard.
“I’m hurting a little bit, but I’ll be alright,” Hamilton said postgame. “I haven’t been out there in awhile, so I got some kinks and things like that but I’ll be alright.”
Hamilton’s lack of mobility prevented him from staying on the field for significant stretches, leaving it to Pinnix-Odrick and sophomore nose tackle Sebastian Joseph.
“It’s always good to have him out there,” Pinnix-Odrick said of Hamilton, his teammate and roommate. “You have fun while you can have it, obviously this wasn’t a fun evening for us. We gotta do our best to make sure next Saturday will be.”
Despite the disparaging result, Hamilton was happy to be on the field with his team, saying there’s nothing he wouldn’t do for his teammates or Rutgers community.
“I love these guys to death. Any chance I can get out there and help this team, this university in any way, I’m all for it,” Hamilton said.
His replacement was critical of himself and his defense, pulling no punches when assessing their performance in the 28-3 defeat.
“They had a better team today. They played better,” Pinnix-Odrick said. “We can try to give it to scheme and all these other things — they played better and the film will show it. When somebody lines up and punches you in the mouth … and that’s what happened. They straight up ran the ball and we didn’t stop them. And I personally need to do a better job. It’s unacceptable.”
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