Penn State will be attempting to snap out of a rare skid when it hosts Rutgers on Saturday.
The Nittany Lions fell two spots to No. 10 after last week’s 28-17 loss to No. 2 Ohio State. They also lost to No. 8 Minnesota two weeks ago after an 8-0 start.
Two losses in three weeks leave Penn State (9-2) almost certainly out of the playoff picture with Saturday’s game against the Scarlet Knights looming.
Backup quarterback Will Levis sparked a huge rally with Penn State trailing Ohio State 21-0. The Nittany Lions pulled within 21-17 before falling late as Levis rushed for 34 yards and one touchdown while completing 6 of 11 passes for 57 yards in relief of starter Sean Clifford, who left with a right hip injury.
It’s unclear whether Clifford or Levis will receive the start against Rutgers on Senior Day.
“Sean’s not the easiest guy to pull off the field — like Trace (McSorley) was,” Penn State head coach James Franklin said. “At the end of the day, those will be medical decisions.”
Levis efficiently moved the offense by mixing in a number of difficult runs up the middle. If called upon again, Levis promises to be ready. He’ll also be relying on Clifford’s wisdom.
“He was a leader like he always is,” Levis said. “He’s gone through situations like this throughout the whole season so he knows what my thought process is. … It was nice to have him in my ear, guiding me through what feelings I was having and what I was seeing. It was great support from him.”
The Penn State senior class has accumulated a 40-11 record to become the first 40-win class since 2009. A victory over Rutgers would tie the ’97 seniors’ class mark of 41 wins.
The reeling Scarlet Knights enter this game with a 2-9 record. Their only two victories have come against Massachusetts and Liberty.
Rutgers, 0-8 in the Big Ten, is seeking its first conference victory since winning three straight in 2017.
In Rutgers’ most recent game, it fell 27-0 to Michigan State last week.
“Obviously, I wish the results were better on the field. But I do feel like we have a lot of guys individually getting better,” interim head coach Nunzio Campanile said. “We played a lot of young players. I think there’s been improvement. I think the guys are still playing really hard in a difficult situation. I’ve said many times you’re supposed to play hard.
“That’s not, I mean, you don’t get, like, a badge for playing hard, but at the same time I do feel like that doesn’t, that’s not always the way it would go.”
Running back Isaih Pacheco ranks ninth in the conference with seven rushing touchdowns. Linebacker Tyshon Fogg is third in the conference with 8.6 tackles per game.
Ultimately, the Scarlet Knights simply don’t have enough depth on offense, defense or special teams. It will take a Herculean effort to come up with a road win on Senior Day at Penn State.
“They have now they have proven they have two quarterbacks, they can go out and really do it at a high level,” Campanile said of the Nittany Lions. “Really dynamic skill players, receivers are very talented. So they are really a complete team, they play hard, they’re tough. So it’s a heck of a challenge, but it’s also a great opportunity for our kids.”
–Field Level Media