Penn State rolls, keeps Big Ten title hopes alive
Piscataway, N.J. — No. 9 Penn State took one step closer to a shot at its first conference title since 2011, the year Joe Paterno was fired.
Tyler Davis kicked a career-high four field goals and the Nittany Lions stayed in the hunt for a berth in the Big Ten conference title game with a 39-0 victory over Rutgers on Saturday night.
The win kept Penn State tied for first place in the Big Ten East with Ohio State and Michigan, who face each other in Columbus, Ohio. If the Buckeyes win and the Nittany Lions take their home finale against Michigan State, Penn State goes to the title game, having beaten the Buckeyes in the regular season.
If Michigan wins, the Wolverines win the Big Ten East.
"When I was a freshman, I never thought with the sanctions that we would ever be in this type of position, and to be here with nine wins — this is our first nine-win season since I've been on the team. I'm just really proud of it," fifth-year senior defensive end Evan Schwan said after Penn State (9-2, 7-1) won its seventh straight game, its longest streak since '11, the year the child sex abuse scandal broke involving one of Paterno's former coaches.
Penn State was never threatened in this one, which finished with rain and then sleet falling.
Saquon Barkley and Andre Robinson scored on short third-quarter runs and the Nittany Lions defense limited Rutgers (2-9, 0-8) to 87 yards in total offense.
Tight end Mike Gesicki said the team has not talked much about the postseason implications in recent weeks.
"We control our own destiny on Saturdays when we play whoever we're playing and that's all we can control and that's all we care about," Gesicki said.
Trace McSorley (17-of-33 for 210 yards) added a 27-yard scoring pass to Mark Allen and backup quarterback Tommy Stevens scored on a 12-yard run in the fourth quarter, when the Nittany Lions had 216 of their 549 yards in total offense.
The loss was the eighth straight for Rutgers and rookie head coach Chris Ash, and the shutout was the fourth of the season. The last time Rutgers was shut out four times in a season was 1936, when it was blanked six straight games in a 1-6-1 season.
This one hurt because it was Senior Day for the Scarlet Knights and they wanted to give their seniors a final win at home.
"Just want to thank our seniors," Ash said. "Disappointing that Senior Night didn't end on a positive. Didn't give them an opportunity to leave their legacy in this football program and this university the way that we wanted."
Penn State led 9-0 at the half and the story was Davis and the Nittany Lions defense.
Davis hit from 32, 34 and 40 yards, the first two into a stiff wind. He added a 32-yarder early in the second half to push the lead to 19-0.
The defense set the tone for the game after Penn State return man Miles Sanders muffed the opening kickoff and Rutgers recovered at the 19. Three plays lost seven yards and David Bonagura was wide right on a 45-yard field goal attempt.
"The defense has been better every week," Penn State linebacker Jason Cadinda said. "We pitched a shutout, 80-something yards. Every week the confidence just builds and builds. We know what we're capable of. It's as simple as that."
Rutgers averaged less than two yards a play on its 50 offensive plays, finishing 1 of 14 on third-down attempts.
"Look at the stats, we're not even one dimensional," Ash said.
While the Nittany Lions' defense was outstanding, the offense did not do much until late. There also has to be concern because Barkley (16 carries for 92 yards) was dinged in the third quarter on a run inside the 10 and he did not return.