Key Play In PSU/Rutgers
PISCATAWAY TWP., N.J. — One play executed just a little bit differently, and John McNulty might have been the talk of the Big Ten on Saturday.
Instead, a potential “Piscataway Special” turned from the highlight of the 2018 season for Rutgers to the epitome of it with one lapse in execution.
“Gave up a touchdown,” Rutgers head coach Chris Ash lamented afterward, “because of a mistake.”
No. 14 Penn State wound up getting the result most expected, beating Rutgers, 20-7, at HighPoint.com Stadium, but the Scarlet Knights and their veteran offensive coordinator had an opportunity to press Penn State firmly against the ropes in the third quarter. Having gone 82 yards in 14 plays on its first drive of the second half with the Nittany Lions up just 13-0, Rutgers called timeout, and McNulty — an Abington Heights grad who is in the first season of his second term as Rutgers’ offensive coordinator — sent the offense out with deception in mind.
With running back Raheem Blackshear lined up in the wildcat on fourth-and-goal from the 2, he took the snap and ran toward the line, drawing the Penn State defense to the middle of the field. But instead of powering his way to the goal line, he flipped to sophomore running back Trey Sneed, who lined up in the slot to the right and reversed field behind Blackshear. A lefty thrower, Sneed lofted a strike to quarterback Gio Rescigno, who found himself wide open in the end zone with hopes of scoring Rutgers’ first touchdown against the Nittany Lions since the second quarter of their 2014 matchup.
Rescigno, though, dropped the pass.
Blackshear would later score on a 2-yard run in the fourth quarter, snapping Rutgers’ touchdown-less streak against the Nittany Lions at 272 minutes, 9 seconds worth of action. But the Rescigno drop essentially ended any chance Rutgers had to seriously threaten a Nittany Lions defense that looked dominant from the start.
Still, the Knights had some bright spots offensively, even though they couldn’t overcome a passing performance that saw them complete just five throws and throw two interceptions.
“We’ve been able to run the ball,” Ash said after the Knights piled up 188 yards on the ground. “I’m definitely pleased with that. We’ve been able to find our identity. We’ve got some good running backs, and we’re doing a good job in the run game. We’ve got to improve our pass game.”
Ash threw more than a small vote of confidence behind McNulty after the game, telling reporters that he would certainly be back running the offense in 2019, providing some stability for a program that has seen nine offensive coordinators in the nine seasons since McNulty left the program for the first time after 2008.
“We’re going to be able to work a lot of the same concepts offensively in the offseason instead of installing another new offense, and that’s invaluable,” Ash said. “To be able to rep the same things over and over and over, that’s how you develop players.”
Rutgers had plenty of help Saturday from the two former Lackawanna Football Conference stars that have been contributing for them all season.
Those 188 rushing yards came behind an offensive line that saw Valley View grad Zach Venesky make his fourth career start.
Wallenpaupack grad Rashawn Battle also played most of the fourth quarter at middle linebacker after starter Deonte Roberts left the game with an injury. Battle finished with four tackles.
First of many?
Penn State gave fans what it wanted, sort of.
True freshman linebacker Micah Parsons made his first career start for the Nittany Lions, recording seven tackles and his first full sack, forcing Rutgers quarterback Artur Sitkowski to fumble in the process.
“Micah Parsons continues to do some good things for us.” Penn State coach James Franklin said.
Parsons started not in place of senior Koa Farmer, who incidentally led the Nittany Lions with eight tackles, but in lieu of Cam Brown, who Franklin said was suspended for a “small violation of team rules.”
With the win, Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley claimed his 30th career victory as the starting signal-caller, breaking a record long shared by Todd Blackledge and Tony Sacca.
Franklin called it “the most important stat you can have at the quarterback position,” but McSorley said it’s something he won’t think about much until after the season is over.
“It’s something I’ll be able to look back on and be proud of when I’m done in years to come,” McSorley said. “But right now, I’m just happy to get the win, and that’s kind of how I look at it. Those things don’t come without teammates, coaches, schemes and all these game plans that have piled up over the years. To me, that’s a team record more than anything.”
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