STATE COLLEGE — The No. 10 Penn State Nittany Lions (9-2) are set to take on the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (2-9) at 3:30 p.m. (BTN) at Beaver Stadium. Here are five things you should keep an eye on during the regular-season finale, where the Nittany Lions will honor 16 players on Senior Day:
Penn State quarterbacks Sean Clifford, Will Levis
Clifford is in the midst of a solid season, one in which he's already tied for fifth in school history for most passing touchdowns (22) in a single year. But, unfortunately for Clifford, he might not be available to pad his stats against Rutgers.
The redshirt sophomore and first-year starter has been battling injuries for about the last month, but those came to a head last Saturday against Ohio State when Clifford crumpled to the turf with an apparent leg injury in the third quarter and did not return. James Franklin said Tuesday afternoon that Clifford would be a "game-time decision" against the Scarlet Knights and that backup QB Will Levis would see time in some capacity. It's just a matter of how much.
On Wednesday night after practice, Franklin provided an update of sorts for his quarterbacks. The two split reps evenly Tuesday but, on Wednesday, he acknowledged Levis saw "considerably" more reps.
With an opponent like Rutgers, one that's lost 20 straight conference games, there's no reason to rush Clifford back. And Levis fared OK in his limited time against the No. 1 Ohio State Buckeyes. He inherited a 21-0 deficit and, thanks to two forced fumbles and short fields, he cut that to 21-17 in nine minutes.
Levis doesn't have the experience or accuracy of Clifford. (Exhibit A: That fourth-quarter interception against Ohio State.) But he boasts a strong arm and a powerful running style. It's worth watching just how he fares after a full week of preparation and reps.
Plus, Rutgers is ranked toward the bottom of the country in pass efficiency defense. (It's at No. 114 out of 130 FBS teams by allowing a 151.75.) So there's obvious potential here for a breakout performance.
Historic futility of Rutgers
Twenty straight Big Ten losses. A national-worst 10 offensive shutouts since 2016. The worst turnover margin in the country (minus-1.27 per game). The list of embarrassing accolades goes on and on for the Scarlet Knights — so much so that Rutgers is making some (unwanted) history.
It is one of the worst teams in Big Ten history.
In fact, NJ.com's Steve Politi wrote a piece last month titled, "Rutgers might be the worst team in Big Ten history." (Emphasis ours.) The 1981 Northwestern team (0-11) currently holds that title after getting outscored 427-75 in conference games, but 2019 Rutgers (2-9) isn't far behind. The Scarlet Knights have been outscored 328-45 by other Big Ten teams.
Some of the brightest players have already entered the transfer portal — such as RB Raheem Blackshear, QB Artur Sitkowski and TE Daevon Robinson — and a dozen total players are already in the portal. That's led to some ... interesting ... situations for the Scarlet Knights.
Starting QB Johnny Langan, for instance, hasn't thrown for 200 yards yet this season. And, in four games, he hasn't reached 100 yards. Against Indiana, Langan was 5-of-13 passing for a single yard. Yes, one yard.
Pick a position, any position, and it's one of the worst in the conference. Rutgers is the Big Ten's measuring stick for bad, and one thing's for sure: You haven't seen a worse Big Ten team than this in a long, long time.
Wideouts not named KJ Hamler, Jahan Dotson
Penn State hasn't been able to find a dependable No. 3 wide receiver all season and, with redshirt freshman Justin Shorter entering the transfer portal, the situation at receiver just got a lot more intriguing.
Redshirt senior Dan Chisena has started in Shorter's place the last two games, and there's no reason to think that won't be the case again. But the big question now is, who'll be the No. 3 receiver next season? (Or, if Hamler declares early for the NFL draft, who will be the No. 2 and the No. 3?)
Sure, Shorter might still have the ability to return. And, yes, five more 2020 WR prospects are set to join the team next year. But, with Chisena set to graduate, this will be an ongoing storyline the entire offseason — and tryouts for who'll be the spring favorite start right now.
Among those worth watching will be redshirt freshman Daniel George, redshirt sophomore Mac Hippenhammer and redshirt sophomore Cam Sullivan-Brown. True freshmen TJ Jones and John Dunmore can also still play while maintaining their redshirts, according to Penn State's participation charts.
Who will stick out? Who will be a favorite target of whatever quarterback is in later in the game? This game could provide a sneak peek at what to expect in the spring.
Penn State's backups, future stars
The Nittany Lions are favored by nearly six touchdowns, so chances are pretty good the starters won't play all four quarters. And, if it's a blowout by halftime, what are you supposed to watch?
Well, this. We should see more of exciting young players such as DE Adisa Isaac, a true freshman whom teammates have already called a future first-round NFL draft pick. We could also see true freshmen who can play and still redshirt, such as WR TJ Jones and WR John Dunmore. Third- and fourth-string QBs such as Michael Johnson and Ta'Qaun Roberson could also make an impact in this game.
Matchups like this are never all that fun to watch, but they do sometimes offer a glimpse at what Penn State fans have to look forward to in a year or two. And who wouldn't want to watch a hard-hitting true freshman LB like Brandon Smith, who's already burned his redshirt but has seen limited time?
So, when the game is out of hand, keep an eye on the names you don't recognize. They might be household names in another season or two.
Atmosphere, attendance at Beaver Stadium
The final game of the regular season is traditionally a dicey proposition when it comes to attendance. Students are still away on Thanksgiving break, families aren't far removed from traveling for the holiday, it's cold, and it's miserable.
Last year, Penn State played Maryland on Senior Day — and it was the only time all season that the announced attendance fell below 100,000. And with an opponent like Rutgers, one that's historically awful, the demand for tickets this week isn't exactly at an all-time high.
As of Thursday morning, tickets to the game could be found for as low as $6 on the secondary market.
The odds are good that today’s attendance is the lowest we've seen in a while at Beaver Stadium. Penn State is known for having one of the best atmospheres in college football ... but will that still hold true against Rutgers?
Keep an eye out on how many fans show up.