Nov 5, 2016; University Park, PA, USA; The Penn State Nittany Lion performs prior to the game against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Beaver Stadium. Penn State defeated Iowa 41-14. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
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When Penn State takes the field at Rutgers Saturday there will be three Nittany Lions to keep an eye on.
The season took a huge turn for the Nittany Lions when the calendar switched to October. A comeback, overtime win over Minnesota propelled Penn State on its current six-game winning streak. With two games remaining, the Nittany Lions have a real shot at the Big Ten Championship.
This week brings a matchup against lowly Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights have yet to win a Big Ten game and enter this weekend suffering through a seven-game losing streak. While Penn State is favored big on paper, anything can happen on the field.
Penn State is coming off a tough win against Indiana. The offense struggled for much of the game, but was able to do enough in the end. More injuries on the offensive line will be cause for concern in the final two games.
Still, the Nittany Lions have the luxury of a young quarterback who has been able to stay cool under pressure. Trace McSorley has made huge strides as the season has progressed and will look to keep that up this week.
Saquon Barkley is one of the best running backs in the country and has the ability to make a huge play anytime he touches the ball.
On defense, the Nittany Lions have improved greatly thanks to the return of linebackers Jason Cabinda and Brandon Bell. Rutgers is dead last in total offense in the Big Ten, so there should be plenty of opportunities for the Penn State defense to make some big plays.
While everything points to a Penn State win Saturday, the game still must be played. If the Nittany Lions want to avoid an upset, the following players will need to play key roles.
Nov 5, 2016; University Park, PA, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes running back LeShun Daniels Jr. (29) runs with the ball as Penn State Nittany Lions linebacker Brandon Bell (11) defends during the second quarter at Beaver Stadium. Penn State defeated Iowa 41-14. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
LB Brandon Bell
Brandon Bell has continued to be a key piece of the Penn State defense since returning from an injury. His presence at linebacker has helped to provide a huge boost to a unit that was really struggling at the beginning of the season.
The linebacker had a big game last week against Indiana, racking up nine total tackles, including two tackles for loss and a sack.
In his four games back Bell has recorded 36 total tackles, including 19 in the upset win against Ohio State.
Rutgers doesn’t appear to present much of a challenge for the Nittany Lions on paper. The Scarlet Knights are the worst team in the Big Ten and have not been able to do much on offense this year. The Penn State defense shouldn’t be tested much, but when they are, keep an eye fixed on Bell.
Nov 5, 2016; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions offensive tackle Paris Palmer (73) and guard Chasz Wright (77) take a moment prior to the game against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Beaver Stadium. Penn State defeated Iowa 41-14. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
OL Chasz Wright
Despite getting out of Bloomington with a win last week, the Nittany Lions were unable to completely escape without issues. Paris Palmer and Connor McGovern were both lost to injury — something that could be very problematic moving forward.
Palmer is out for the season, while fortunately, McGovern seems like he’ll be back.
Offensive lineman Chasz Wright got the start last week in place of right tackle Brendan Mahon and is once again listed as the starter this week.
The Nittany Lions won’t be facing a top defense this week, but the offensive line still needs to be in top form. Assistant coach Matt Limegrover will likely continue to shuffle combinations this week in an effort to find the right mix.
It will be interesting to watch how the line plays against Rutgers this week. There are several guys worth keeping an eye on, but after starting last week, look for Chasz Wright to once again be counted on.
Nov 5, 2016; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions tight end Mike Gesicki (88) runs with the ball after a catch against the Iowa Hawkeyes during the second quarter at Beaver Stadium. Penn State defeated Iowa 41-14. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports
TE Mike Gesicki
Rewind to last season, and tight end Mike Gesicki was being labeled as a major disappointment. Big things were expected from him when he was one of the top recruits at his position. However, he really struggled last season, particularly catching balls thrown his way.
This year, however, is a completely different story for the junior. He is finally starting to live up to his potential and has developed into a very reliable target for quarterback Trace McSorley.
Gesicki is second on the team this year with 37 receptions and 499 yards. He’s coming off his most productive game of the season last week, grabbing five receptions for 88 yards.
Now a major piece of the Penn State passing attack, Gesicki is an important player every week. Keep an eye on him to see if he can keep his good play going this week against the Scarlet Knights.