Penn State postgame updates: Defense strangles helpless Rutgers, once more
Penn State defense overcomes slow start, dominates again
Nothing really looked smooth for the Nittany Lions early on at Rutgers.
Certainly, the offense didn't find any stability until the end of the first half. And much of that came on the running of senior quarterback Sean Clifford, for better or worse.
But that defense?
Manny Diaz's group just keeps coming in waves and, so it controlled yet another game most of the way. The Lions piled up 10 tackles for loss in the first half alone and strangled Rutgers and rookie QB Gavin Wimsatt after a few early breakdowns.
In the end, the Scarlet Knights produced just 167 total yards with Wimsatt struggling to a 10-of-29 passing effort. Penn State cruised to the finish, 55-10.
This is how dominating it was: The Lions scored twice on fumble returns and nearly owned a third defensive touchdown. Alas, Johnny Dixon's second-quarter interception return was called back by an unnecessary personal foul penalty.
In the end, linebackers Curtis Jacobs and Abdul Carter and defensive end Amin Vanover each produced two stops behind scrimmage to lead.
The offensive hero for Penn State: That would be freshman tailback Kaytron Allen, if there really was one. He tore through the Knights late for 117 yards on just 11 carries.
Drew Allar cashes in, too
Penn State kept piling on against the overwhelmed and overmatched Scarlet Knights.
Its defense was far too much, once it settled in, for rookie quarterback Gavin Wimsatt. And the offense finally gained cohesion with rookie running backs Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen carrying the load after halftime.
And in the end, even rookies were scoring on offense.
Backup kicker Sander Sahaydak kicked his first collegiate field goal in the third quarter. Then, all-everything QB recruit Drew Allar led the last several drives of the game and scored the Lions' final TD by carrying three straight times near the end zone midway through the fourth.
Allar was a bit wild throwing in relief, going 5-of-10 for just 47 yards. His arm strength, impressive as it is, was just missing the mark today.
Penn State's offense piled up 438 total yards after a slow start.
Lions lead, 55-10.
Penn State scores in all ways
The Nittany Lions did something today they haven't in 24 years.
Of course, it came against the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers, a team they've dominated and toyed with in the Big Ten for eight years now.
The Nittany Lions have produced three non-offensive touchdowns in a game (two fumble returns, kickoff return) for the first time since 1998 against Bowling Green. That was Joe Paterno's 300th career victory. That day the Lions scored on two interceptions and a punt return.
Today, the damage was done by Nick Singleton's 100-yard kickoff return, Kobe King's fumble return and Ji'Ayir Brown's fumble return. The Lions nearly had a third defensive touchdown, but Johnny Dixon's pick-six was called back by penalty.
Penn State leads 48-10 with most of the fourth quarter still to play. Drew Allar is in at quarterback. And rookie Sandar Sahaydak just kicked his first college field goal.
Kaytron Allen leads all offensive performers with 117 rushing yards on just 11 carries.
Drew Allar hands the ball to Kaytron Allen
Penn State's offense really didn't have to do very much lifting of any kind today at Rutgers.
Special teams scored one touchdown.
Defense scored two more − and nearly a third.
But there's still something to be said for these freshmen running backs. There usually is before any day ends in the Big Ten anymore.
This time, Nick Singleton started it off with a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. And running mate Kaytron Allen all but finished things by gouging the Scarlet Knights for 67 yards on back-to-back carries here midway through the third quarter.
Allen broke loose for 59 yards one one handoff from backup QB Drew Allar. On the second, he plowed into the end zone from 8 yards out.
That pushed the lead to 45-10.
And it moved him over the 100-yard rushing mark for the day.
Singleton and Allen are now the first freshman running duo in Big Ten history with more than 700 rushing yards each in a season.
Ji'Ayir Brown scores TD in front of family and friends
Penn State safety Ji'Ayir Brown grew up only 45 minutes from SHI Stadium in Trenton, New Jersey.
He had a load of family and friends wearing No. 16 jerseys waiting for him and the Nittany Lions when they pulled up to the stadium two hours before kickoff.
And did the Jersey Kid ever make them happy here in the opening moments of the second half ...
After the Penn State defense gave up a huge catch-and-run to start the third quarter, it stiffened quickly. And on third down blitzing linebacker Curtis Jacobs crushed rookie QB Gavin Wimsatt almost immediately after taking the snap.
Wimsatt lost the football − and Brown scooped it up. The senior, nicknamed "Tig" since childhood, ran 70 yards for the touchdown.
The blue-and-white crowd here went wild, so to speak.
Penn State led 35-10.
It was the Lions' second defensive touchdown of the day and nearly their third. Johnny Dixon's second-quarter pick-six was called back by penalty.
Sean Clifford's legs better than his arm?
The Nittany Lions' offense did not look fully functional in the first half at Rutgers − certainly not up to Top 10 standards.
Penn State certainly may be headed there after beating the Scarlet Knights today. But that offense? Clifford actually pulled the Lions into a comfortable halftime lead more with his running than his passing. He started by accelerating nicely on a key first down run midway through the second quarter, igniting a short TD drive.
He pulled off a brilliant fake for an 11-yard run a bit later.
And he finished the half by sprinting up the middle on a designed QB-keeper for a 14-yard touchdown.
His seven first-half carries produced 35 yards (and more before sack totals were deducted). It was a better running performance than we've probably seen all year from the sixth-year senior.
Meanwhile, Clifford's passing was pretty much negligible until the end of the first half. He completed 13-of-20 passes for just 117 yards. His freshman running back stars produced just 29 rushing yards combined.
Penn State led 28-10 at the break, thanks to a Nick Singleton kickoff return for one score, a fumble recovery for another and an interception that set up a third score.
Sean Clifford, offense finally look sharp
Penn State almost didn't need its offense, yet again.
Not after Johnny Dixon's apparent pick-six nearly was the team's second defensive touchdown of the day.
But the play was called back by penalty, the Lions getting the ball on the Rutgers' 30. And Sean Clifford then went to work effectively for the first time all day.
Cliff accelerated impressively and ran for a key first down to start things.
He finished it all with help from a great pre-snap alignment and shift. Penn State moved out of its third-and-short, full-house run look with Clifford faking and throwing to wide-open Tyler Warren.
The Lions' third-string tight end waltzed into the end zone and the Lions now lead, 21-10.
Which should seem like an insurmountable advantage in this series. Rutgers has never scored more than 10 points against Penn State since joining the Big Ten.
No offense, no problem for Penn State
The Nittany Lions and Sean Clifford and those impressive freshman running backs have done nearly nothing so far today.
And, somehow, Penn State still leads, 14-10. Improbably so, indeed.
The points have come on a Nick Singleton 100-yard kickoff return and a Kobe King fumble return (thanks to a timely hit by Dom Deluca).
The offense, meanwhile, has accounted for just 67 total yards. Most all of that is on six Clifford completions, which is a story in itself. He's completed six passes for all of 53 yards.
And, honestly enough, the Penn State defense has not really looked that sharp, either. They have provided good pressure on Rutgers rookie quarterback Gavin Wimsatt.
Remember, Rutgers has never scored more than 10 points in a game against the Lions in Big Ten play.
Nick Singleton ... goes ... all the way
Penn State's rookie star shook up the place midway through the first quarter.
And the Rutgers Scarlet Knights enlightening lead (one of the only ones in this Big Ten rivalry) lasted all of about 12 seconds.
Nick Singleton popped his first big special teams play of the year, of his college career − on the play just after Rutgers kicked a go-ahead field goal.
Singleton took the kickoff on the right side at the goal line and took off to the middle of the field. After an easy shift to the left he was free, the line of blockers and pursuers opening wide. No one had a chance of catching him once he approached midfield.
He was never touched, not even close.
Of course, on this wintry, weird kind of football day, Rutgers immediately answered. Their kickoff man ran it all the way back to the Penn State 20.
A few plays later, Rutgers regained the lead on a short TD pass.
Who figured for this many first-quarter fireworks in Piscataway?
There's still 5:56 to play in the opening quarter.
No Parker Washington, Curtis Jacobs may return
Penn State star receiver Parker Washington did not make the trip to Rutgers, apparently because of injury.
Several Nittany Lions could be in line to replace his minutes, including redshirt freshmen Tre Wallace and Liam Clifford. High-profile recruit and true freshman Kaden Saunders also traveled today with the team.
Washington, the team's No. 1 receiver, has been a consistent, durable contributor since the first game of his rookie season in 2020. He was a standout performer against Minnesota and Ohio State this season.
Meanwhile, the Lions' ever-improving defense could get a major piece of its starting lineup back today. Linebacker Curtis Jacobs looked to be a full-go in pregame warmups after missing last week's game with an undisclosed injury issue.
Winter greets Penn State and Rutgers in SHI Stadium
It's more of a winter kind-of-day feeling here, complete with ice skaters.
They are going to play football, Penn State and Rutgers under clear skies, despite temperatures barely reaching 40 degrees and winds making it feel a lot more uncomfortable.
Interesting, then, to see how the weather plays into Penn State's special teams and passing operations today. Sean Clifford has struggled of late with his accuracy, no matter the conditions. It could be, then, a better opportunity to build upon that growing run-game power of rookies Nick Singleton and Kaytron Allen.
While kicking and punting also could be an issue, Jake Pinegar has looked confident and unbreakable the past two weeks. He drilled a career-best 50-yarder in swirling winds two weeks ago at Indiana. He matched the distance last week in Beaver Stadium in the rain.
Yeah, he's in a delivery groove lately, kind of like the mailman. Not sure this day will bother him at all.
Most valuable Nittany Lion ... Ji'Ayir Brown
It should be quite a final two games for Penn State's do-everything defender, Ji'Ayir Brown.
Ji'Ayir Brown is a senior captain. He's the team leader in tackles. And he's the most versatile asset on defense, if not the entire team.
Brown will play his final road game today at Rutgers, just 45 minutes from where he grew up. He expects a large contingent of family and friends attending.
His last home game is next Saturday in Beaver Stadium.
Look for a big effort from Penn State's starting safety today − who also may line up at linebacker or at defensive end or stalk the line of scrimmage as a stand-up pass rusher. He should be a particularly effective weapon against Rutgers' rookie quarterback and young runners.
Brown's just done it all. He leads the team team with 55 tackles to go along with three interceptions and three pass breakups. But he's also posted 5.5 tackles for loss and three sacks, impressive backfield numbers for a 5-foot-11, 200-pound safety.
Juice Scruggs, Chris Stoll deliver:How good are these two, really, Penn State fans? It may surprise you ...
His most daring feat? Maybe lining up at defensive end in a goal line stand at Michigan, then fighting off a blocker to make one of those tackles behind scrimmage. That helped force a short field goal.
And maybe no Nittany Lion has come further, considering that he received no Power 5 offers out of high school in Trenton before going attending junior college at Lackawanna.
Truly enough, he's played at an All-America level the past two years. He tied for the national lead with six interceptions in 2021.
Watch for an inspired effort today, leading one of the nation's rising defenses.
Follow along here all afternoon and evening with beat reporter Frank Bodani for instant updates, analysis and opinion from SHI Stadium in Piscataway, New Jersey.