Rutgers faces Penn State seeking step toward relevance

Nittany Nation

Football coaches aren’t always the most sentimental, so it’s doubtful that Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano has noted or will care very much that Saturday’s scheduled game against Penn State will be the first following the one-year anniversary of his return to the Scarlet Knights.

However, just being asked this week about a Rutgers-Penn State rivalry is an indication of the rapid progress the Scarlet Knights have made in the first season of Schiano’s second stint at the New Jersey school.

The Scarlet Knights (2-4, 2-4 Big Ten) will look to maintain their hopes of a .500 season when they host the Nittany Lions (1-5, 1-5) in a matchup of teams experiencing decidedly different seasons.

They have one thing in common, however. Both will be looking to build their first winning streak of the season. Rutgers beat Purdue 37-30 last Saturday while Penn State broke into the win column at the expense of Michigan, 27-17.

Rutgers snapped a four-game losing streak that nonetheless provided plenty of short- and long-term optimism for the Scarlet Knights, who squandered double-digit leads in back-to-back losses to Illinois and Michigan prior to beating Purdue. Shameen Jones had eight catches for 88 yards and two touchdowns in the victory over the Boilermakers.

Rutgers can finish .500 and with its most Big Ten wins ever by beating Penn State and Maryland, whom it is scheduled to face on Dec. 12. The Scarlet Knights entered this season 7-45 in Big Ten play since debuting in the league in 2014 and lost 21 straight conference games before earning a 38-27 win over Michigan State in the season opener on Oct. 24.

But Schiano, who directed the once-moribund Scarlet Knights to a 68-67 record from 2001-11 and won bowl games in five of his final six seasons before departing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, isn’t ready to consider Rutgers a rival of a traditional power such as Penn State.

“I don’t think you can make a rival,” Schiano said Tuesday. “If we play well enough over a number of years here in the game against Penn State, it would be a natural rival — bordering states, all that. But Rutgers has not given a reason yet for us to be Penn State’s rival. That’s up to us.”

A case could be made Penn State has already helped Rutgers close the perception gap between the programs. The Nittany Lions were ranked eighth in the preseason before enduring the first 0-5 start in the history of a program that has won 899 games over 127 seasons.

Head coach James Franklin hopes Penn State turned a corner during a wire-to-wire win over Michigan, which pulled within 20-17 early in the fourth quarter before the Nittany Lions mounted a 12-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to put the game away. Will Levis’ 2-yard run capped the march.

“We played with tremendous grit, which is a word that has described us for six years here,” Franklin said. “Really, the wins are what you work so hard for. For the most part, we’ve done a really good job of that. The older I get and the longer I’ve been in the profession, though, the wins are awesome and I love them, but the losses are really painful.”

–Field Level Media

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