By: Thomas Frank Carr
Saquon Barkley may have already lost his chance to win the Heisman with his play over the past two weeks versus Ohio State and Michigan. Much of that is no fault of his own. Barkley was only given 17 total offensive touches in the game versus Michigan State and losing nearly 40 yards rushing on dead plays in the Ohio State game.
Nevertheless if he does have a chance to make up ground on current quasi-favorite, Baker Mayfield, he will have to have monster stat games over the next three weeks vs inferior opponents.
Don’t forget, last year Lamar Jackson lost games to quality opponents in the month of October and still won the Heisman. He put up gaudy numbers at the beginning and the end of the season to sway voters who were undecided. It is always easier to do that as a quarterback, but it helps that Barkley has been so prevalent in the conversation for so long.
- Finger Nails
Sharp, with it, focused, no matter how you put it, the Nittany Lions have to come out and play like they own the field on Saturday vs Rutgers.
There are factors over the last two weeks that led to Penn State not looking as put-together as they have in the past. Extreme weather and road environments have caused the Nittany Lions to stumble the past two weeks.
That does not change the fact that for good portions of the last two games Penn State on the defensive. For long stretches of both games they were reacting and not attacking. During the Ohio State game, it felt like the NIttany Lions were just hanging on by their finger nails, despite having an 18 point lead at one point.
Penn State must be the aggressor on Saturday. They are back at home for the first time in three weeks, and they will be playing a team they should beat. Even if Rutgers is improved from last year, the Nittany Lions must be in control of this game from wire to wire.
- Make Them Even More One Dimensional
Rutgers is a run first, second and third team. Penn State head Coach James Franklin says that Scarlet Knight’s head coach Chris Ash has built his team that way,
“They do have a big physical offensive line. They’re big at the running back position. Two of their best players are Miami transfers. Their running back is 235 pounds and he’ll pound you. They’re doing a nice job. They’re doing a nice job of protecting the quarterback, [using] the quick game, moving the pocket and things like that.”
Despite a sub-par performance on the road vs Ohio State, the Penn State front seven has done a fantastic job stopping the run this year. While Rutgers has the size on the offensive line, Penn State has proven this year that they can hold up vs big lineman and still make plays in the running game. Shutting the ground game down for Rutgers will be the key factor this Saturday.
- Pass Rush Production
Like we just mentioned, it is unlikely that Rutgers will have much success running the ball on the Penn State front seven on Saturday. When that happens, the maligned pass rush of the Nittany Lions has to get home.
Losing two starters at defensive end has been a huge blow of the Penn State pass rush, but blitzing has not been working either. Franklin says that his players have lacked the aggression he’d like to see from them when attacking the offensive line,
“I think we could play a little bit more aggressive. I think we could play a little bit more reckless. I think sometimes we go to blitz and we see the offensive fan out to pick up the blitz and we don’t attack it as hard as we should attack it.”
Whether it’s on a blitz or not, the Nittany Lions need to get home and put Rutgers quarterback Giovanni Rescigno on the ground today.
1 “Too Finesse”
It was rather shocking to hear James Franklin call his team “too finesse” on Saturday after the 27-24 loss to Michigan State. He said that he was going to change up practice if he had to, and make his team a “hard-nosed team”. This week Franklin had a much more measured response when asked about that,
“It’s not going to happen overnight. We’ve got to keep stressing it on both sides of the ball. We’ve got some injuries that have factored into that, but we need to be able to create space on offense and we need to be more physical and strike our keys, and win one-on-one matchups defensively.”
Whether it was an emotional reaction or not, Franklin said what he said after the game with Sparty. The cat is out of the bag. His team needs to start looking more like a ‘hard-nosed’ team through the final month of the season.