No. 9 Penn State go for 7 in row, face woeful Rutgers
PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) Rutgers first-year coach Chris Ash doesn't care that No. 9 Penn State has a chance to win the Big Ten Conference title, and he has even less interest in seeing his Scarlet Knights play the role of spoiler on Saturday night.
All Ash cares about is that this is Rutgers' final home game and he wants his seniors to go out with a win.
It has nothing to do with going to bowl game or anything like that.
The Scarlet Knights (2-8, 0-7) aren't going anywhere this year. It's been a tough first season with the former Ohio State co-defensive coordinator as their coach. They have not been very competitive, so knocking off Penn State (8-2, 6-1) would make their season.
“We're not talking about spoilers,” Ash said. “We're playing for ourselves and we're playing for our seniors. We're playing to try to get better. But this week it is about the seniors. We have a lot of them. A lot of them that have done a tremendous amount of positive things here at Rutgers.”
Rutgers will have to improve to be competitive this week. It has lost seven in a row, including a 49-0 loss to struggling Michigan State last weekend. The results have been even worse against the conference's elite. It was beaten 58-0 by No.2 Ohio State and 78-0 by No. 4 Michigan.
Ohio State and Michigan are currently tied with Penn State for first place in the Big Ten East. If the Nittany Lions can beat Rutgers and Michigan State in their final two games, and Michigan were to lose one of its last two, they would win the division.
“This is going to be an emotional game,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “There are a lot of ties on both sides. They're going to come out being aggressive in how they call the game, the decisions they make and how their players play. We want to start fast each week, because we want to start fast each week, and that's going to give us the best chance to be successful consistently. No other things factor into it. It's the best thing to do to give us the best chance to be successful.”
Here's some things to watch in the game:
SAQUON BARKLEY: The Nittany Lions running back has run for 733 yards and six touchdowns in the last five games. He leads the Big Ten with 1,113 yards rushing. The problem is Barkley, who ran for 195 yards and two TDs in the game against Rutgers last year, took a couple of big hits as Indiana loaded the box last week. Franklin might decide to take some of the load off Barkley and let freshmen Miles Sanders and Andre Robinson get more carries.
RUTGERS D LINE: With Penn State's offensive line in flux because of injuries, defensive tackle Darius Hamilton and end Julian Pennix-Odrick will be looking to make a statement in their final home games. Hamilton has 43 tackles and a half sack in overcoming a knee injury that caused him to miss almost all of last season. Pinnix-Odrick has 41 tackles and a team-high 4½ sacks.
BIG CATCHES: Tight end Mike Gesicki has stepped up in the last two games despite playing on a sore ankle. He has had nine catches for 153 yards, including five for 88 yards last weekend. He has career highs of 37 catches for 499 yards, including four for more than 40 yards. The junior is tied for the Big Ten lead and tied for No. 9 nationally in receptions by a tight end. He ranks No. 1 in the conference and fifth in the FBS in receiving yards by a tight end.
AUTOMATIC: Placekicker Tyler Davis has yet to miss a kick that has not been blocked in his career. He is 24-for-26 on field goal attempts, with both misses being blocks. He has also made all 46 of his PAT attempts. He is a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award, which goes to the nation's top kicker.
Freelancer Travis Johnson in State College, Pennsylvania, contributed to this report.
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