In the program's final home game of the season, the Rutgers football team will take on its rival, Penn State. The Scarlet Knights (4-6, 1-6) are on their last leg for Bowl eligibility with two games left in the season. Trying to win against the No. 11 Nittany Lions (8-2, 5-2) will not be easier than the Michigan State team Rutgers lost to one week ago 27-21.
To talk about the Knights’ matchup with Penn State, The Daily Targum sat down with Spencer Ripchik, who covers Penn State for the university’s student newspaper, The Daily Collegian.
Penn State’s head coach James Franklin has a 75-36 record since taking over the position in 2014. In 2019, one of his best seasons, the Nittany Lions went 11-2 and won the Cotton Bowl against Memphis. So, where does this 2022 season fall?
"Looking at it right now — I’ve said that every single week — Penn State is going to be a ... 10-2 team," said Ripchik. “They're not elite enough to be in the College Football Playoff, which I think is what every fan thinks since Franklin is in his ninth year now is the standard at Penn State and is what they need to meet that expectation.”
Quarterback Sean Clifford has significantly contributed to the team’s success over the past four seasons. While he hasn’t had his best season at Penn State in 2022, Clifford knows how to efficiently run the offense and put the ball where it needs to be.
"(Clifford’s) been that guy. This is his fourth year now, and he’s probably been the most controversial player on the Penn State roster," said Ripchik. "This season, he’s had his ups, and he’s had his downs … He’s had clutch moments like the game-winning drive against Purdue, but he’s made some very bad throws."
Ripchik mentioned how Clifford is better when Penn State is complementary with running the football. The Nittany Lions are ranked 48th in the nation in the run game thanks to Nicholas Singleton, who leads the team with 801 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns.
"I think (Singleton’s) going be right up there with Saquon Barkley and Miles Sanders," said Ripchik. "I feel like Penn State right now has two really good freshman running backs … (Singleton) is the explosive running back that can turn a 4-yard play into an 80-yard touchdown. Kaytron Allen ... can get you the 1 to 2-yard guarantee — he’s going to run people over."
Penn State is also known for its dominant defenses, and the 2022 squad is no exception. Even though the team gives up 339.3 total yards per game to opponents, the Nittany Lions are among the best in the country in sacks.
"Chop Robinson … has been really, really good," said Ripchik. “He pretty much fit right where Arnold Ebiketie left off when he got drafted to the Falcons … One of my favorite players to watch is, potentially the next Micah Parsons, No. 11 Abdul Carter, who’s a true freshman. He’s pretty much the closest thing you’re going to get to the next (Parsons)."
National media members expect Penn State to win with ease this weekend. But, Ripchik does believe there is one crack in the armor that Rutgers can exploit to try and pull out the upset.
"Michigan very well exposed Penn State in this regard — just running and pounding the football down Penn State’s throat," Ripchik said. "I think Penn State’s realized that’s a glaring problem and has fixed it since the Michigan game, but I feel like if they went back to the run game and just dominated in the run, they can definitely beat Penn State that way."
Even though Ripchik believes the Knights can exploit the Nittany Lions’ run game, he believes that Penn State will run away with this one in the end.
"My score right now would probably be 35-7 or 38-7," Ripchik said. "It’s going to be cold on Saturday, so if Penn State just runs the football like they’ve been the past couple of games, there’s not a lot of teams that can beat them right now in the conference.”
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