Rutgers falls to No. 14 Penn State at Beaver Stadium by score of 35-6
The Knights open scoring with 2 field goals before allowing 5 unanswered Nittany Lion touchdowns
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — It has been said time and time again this season, but it bears repeating: this is not the same Rutgers football team from last year.
The 2016 Scarlet Knights would not — and did not — put up points against a ranked Penn State side. They certainly would not have held Penn State to 304 yards with a receiving core of DaeSean Hamilton, Juwan Johnson and Mike Gesicki. Or Saquon Barkley to just 35 yards on the ground.
Rutgers (4-6, 3-4) lost to No. 14 Penn State (8-2, 5-2) by a score of 35-6 on Saturday, and though there wasn't much to love for Knights fans, there was more than last year.
Lopsided scoreline aside, it's a telltale sign of improvement when your team allows 245 fewer yards of total offense from one year to the next. And even with Rutgers' continued offensive struggles in the passing game, it still found a way to increase its total offense from 87 yards last year to 200.
Still, there was no denying the talent gap for anyone watching Saturday, despite Penn State noticeably not being at its best. The Knights labored up the field with long, often fruitless drives while the Lions, at least through the first half, still could "turn it on" at any moment.
"Really the difference in the game — it was their skill versus our skill," said head coach Chris Ash. "We struggled to consistently cover their wide receivers down the field, and we struggled with our wide receivers getting open against their DBs, that's what it is. Up front on both sides of the ball, I thought we played pretty well."
What could have been wasteful drives for Penn State were revived by wide passes downfield or first-down rushes from Trace McSorley. McSorley finished the day leading his side in rushing yards with 44, including a 20-yard run into the end zone to put the Lions on the board.
That mid-second quarter touchdown gave Penn State a lead it would not give up, as it would follow that up with 2 touchdowns from Barkley and 1 apiece for Gesicki and Hamilton.
"A play could go from four seconds to 10 seconds," said sophomore cornerback Damon Hayes, on defending against a versatile quarterback like McSorley. "You just gotta be able to cover your guy downfield almost 40 yards at times."
Rutgers on the other hand failed to get anything going after starting the game with two field goals from kicker Andrew Harte. The first came off of a fortunate recovery of the opening kickoff at the 21-yard line. The second field goal for the Knights was the product of a 15-yard, 57-yard drive — the most plays on a scoring drive all season for Rutgers — indicative of the team's offensive play for much of the first half.
The second half, like many second halves for Rutgers this season, was less than stellar, with the defense allowing 3 touchdowns and the offense only collecting 79 of its 200 total yards.
Forty-three of those 200 yards came through the air Saturday for Rutgers, as junior quarterback Giovanni Rescigno once again could not place his passes, going 7-20. Rescigno's efforts were felt more so on the ground, collecting 39 rushing yards, including multiple first-down runs eventually leading to scores in the first half.
But a score for the Knights Saturday afternoon meant 3 points, and there is a discouragement that comes with moving the ball all the way up the field only to fall short in the final few yards.
"It was tough," Rescigno said. "The first one, they had us fine, but the second one, the second drive when we got down there, it got tipped. ... That's unfortunate, it happens, it's just part of the game. Yeah, you would like to get a touchdown there, but it's better getting points than nothing."
Three points is 3 points, but the big picture remains centered around Rutgers' inability to score a touchdown, leading to another loss to a top team in the Big Ten.
For Ash — never one to shy away from the fact that a loss is indeed a loss — the finer points should just as well be emphasized. It's the only way to come away with some positives after a loss almost identical to all of the Knights' losses to ranked conference foes.
"I still believe that this is a football team that's getting better all the time," Ash said. "Last year at the end of this game against these guys, it wasn't a lot of fun. I'm discouraged that we lost the game, but I continue to be encouraged about the improvement and the attitude and the effort and the toughness that our team displays right now."
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