Penn State hosts Rutgers in a bit of a delicate spot Saturday.
The Lions have lost four of their last five but are big home favorites. They have a deeper roster of talent but spent the week without some key players due to flu-like symptoms.
They're also intent on getting an offense together that hasn't scored more than 28 points against a Power 5 team this season.
Penn State (6-4) vs. Rutgers (5-5)
- When: Noon EST Saturday
- Where: Beaver Stadium
- TV: Big Ten Network
- Streaming: fuboTV
- Betting Line: Penn State is a 17-point favorite, according to SI Sports Book
- Series History: Penn State leads 29-2
- Last Meeting: Penn State 23-7 in 2020
- Streaks: Penn State has won 14 straight
Penn State faces some late-season adversity
Coach James Franklin said Wednesday that six players had missed practice with non-COVID symptoms. Among them were starting offensive linemen Rasheed Walker, Caedan Wallace and Mike Miranda, who left the Michigan game with an undisclosed injury.
(The CDC was at Michigan's campus this week to research a "large and sudden increase" in cases of influenza, according to a university news release.)
Though the Penn State players have time to recover, Franklin said he was preparing contingency plans. Freshman lineman Landon Tengwall, who has not played this season, could see playing time. Franklin also mentioned Bryce Effner, who has played multiple positions this season.
"Landon and Effner are the two guys that I think are the closest to being able to contribute and help," Franklin said. "... Effner's obviously played multiple positions and has done a bunch of things for us, but we may need more. So Landon's also a swing guy who's taken reps this week at guard and tackle, so we'll see how that plays out."
Then there's quarterback Sean Clifford, who was sacked seven times last week and continues to play through pain. Teammates praised Clifford's toughness and endurance, which he'll need in abundance if Rutgers brings pressure. The Scarlet Knights forced six turnovers in a 38-3 win over Indiana last week.
Penn State Players to Watch
Jesse Luketa: As a hybrid end/linebacker, Luketa has played multiple roles on defense. He can move around and deliver a needed pass-rush to complement Arnold Ebiketie. Luketa also could be a candidate to return for another developmental season at defensive end.
Keyvone Lee: After a 20-carry, 88-yard game against Michigan, Lee established himself as the team's most productive back. He should get another 20 carries vs. Rutgers and a chance to reach the elusive 100-yard milestone.
Christian Veilleux: Franklin confirmed this week that the freshman is the team's No. 2 quarterback. Should the Lions get a comfortable lead, Veilleux could see action for the first time this season. That would be an important moment heading into next year.
Rutgers Players to Watch
Noah Vedral: Rutgers' quarterback began his career at Central Florida in 2017, transferred to Nebraska in 2018 and moved on to Rutgers in 2020. He has played a lot of football, and has a 16/13 touchdown-interception ratio the past two years, but is a gamer who Penn State can't underrate.
Olakunle Fatukasi: The linebacker, a two-time Butkus Award semifinalist, will be one of the best defensive players on the field. He has 11 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks, making him a thorn for Penn State's shaky offensive line.
Adam Korsak: Franklin called Korsak the best punter in the Big Ten, even though Penn State has a pretty good one in Jordan Stout. Korsak leads the nation in net punting average (45.7 yards) and hasn't had a touchback in 108 consecutive attempts.
Five Things You Should Know
1. James Franklin is 7-0 against Rutgers, and his teams have not allowed more than 10 points in any game. Penn State has outscored Rutgers 185-39 in those seven games.
2. Rutgers last defeated Penn State in 1988, 21-16, under head coach Dick Anderson, who also was a long-time assistant for the Lions.
3. Rutgers (plus-7) and Penn State (plus-6) both rank in the top 25 nationally in turnover margin.
4. Penn State's Jahan Dotson is eight receptions from passing Allen Robinson (177) and Deon Butler (179) for No. 2 on the program's career-receptions list.
5. Rutgers is 6-3 in road games the past two seasons under coach Greg Schiano. The Scarlet Knights won three Big Ten road games in their first six conference seasons.
Penn State has to be careful here, against a team playing for its first bowl bid since 2014. The Scarlet Knights have won two of their last three games, sandwiched around a 52-3 loss to Wisconsin, and bring a carefree group to State College.
Not to mention that Schiano, a former Penn State assistant who still credits Joe Paterno as a major influence, returns to Beaver Stadium for the first time as a head coach. What does Rutgers have to lose?
Ultimately, the Lions should grind out a win, though it might resemble Franklin's first game, that 13-10 slog in 2014.
Penn State 24, Rutgers 10