College students, rejoice: Thanksgiving break is here.
For some that means spending time with family, and for others it means hitting hometown bars, followed by a late-night slice or two.
But for the Nittany Lions (9-2, 7-1), this upcoming week is all about football, football and more football.
No class? More time to focus on Michigan State.
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“Coach says we’re kind of like NFL players this week,” tight end Mike Gesicki said following Penn State’s 39-0 drubbing of Rutgers (2-9, 0-8) on Saturday night at High Point Solutions Stadium.
And the stakes are as high as they’ve been for Penn State in years. With a victory over Sparty and some help — an Ohio State win over Michigan — the Nittany Lions will win the Big Ten East division and be off to Indianapolis for the conference championship game on Dec. 3.
Penn State, which opens as 13.5-point favorites over Michigan State, are eying up a 10-win season for the first time since 2009. Before edging LSU in the Capital One Bowl, the Nittany Lions took down Sparty 42-14 to earn their 10th win of that season.
Could history repeat itself on Saturday?
The Nittany Lions have all week to key in on Michigan State, and the only possible distraction would be the overarching Big Ten title implications.
“But taking care of the next game is the only way we’ll be able to have that opportunity,” Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley said.
In the meantime, let’s take a closer look at Penn State’s win over Rutgers.
▪ How about Tyler Davis?
Between the folk hero status of Joey Julius (totally warranted) and fascination with a competent punter (freshman Blake Gillikin), Penn State’s redshirt junior placekicker has, one could argue, been taken for granted this season.
Davis hit a career-high four field goals against the Scarlet Knights, and did so with some nasty wind on two of them. As Penn State’s offense stalled twice deep in Rutgers territory in the first quarter, Davis connected on a pair of attempts, kicking into swirling gusts of wind.
Before his second attempt — a 34-yarder — officials had to call time to fix the Allstate goalposts nets, twice.
Props to Davis’ focus not only Saturday night, but also throughout the season. He’s 20 of 22 (90.9 percent) through 11 games, tied for 11th nationally.
“That guy is unbelievable,” Penn State head coach James Franklin said. “If you had to name an MVP right now, it would probably be him. I’m really proud of that guy.”
▪ Speaking of wind, credit to punt returner Gregg Garrity. Calling a fair catch and securing the ball never looked so difficult, and he did it five times in the rain and sleet.
I’d slip and fall on my face before even waving the for the fair catch.
▪ Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley said redshirt sophomore running back Mark Allen has “a little move and attitude to him” — and he showed it in the fourth quarter.
Securing a swing pass from McSorley, Allen weaved through Scarlet Knight defenders and dropped a filthy jump-cut at the 6-yard line before falling into the end zone for a 27-yard score.
It’s worth watching over and over again.
▪ Meanwhile, McSorley did damage of his own with his legs. The redshirt sophomore had 55 yards on 11 carries, three of which went for first downs.
It was a positive showing for the mobile quarterback after being limited on the ground at Indiana. A combination of his taped-up ankle and simple indecision on read-options led to him rushing for 13 yards on eight carries against the Hoosiers.
That changed on Saturday, though.
Plus, McSorley had a Fran Tarkenton-esque scramble in which he spun around twice in the backfield and escaped around the edge.
Add that to his highlight reel.
▪ However, McSorley and the Penn State aerial attack was not as effective Saturday night. For the first time this season, McSorley didn’t have a completion of 30 yards or more against the Scarlet Knights.
Of course, the weather played a major role in that; throwing into the wind, McSorley had a couple possible touchdown throws knocked down by nature before they even reached his intended targets.
But even with the wind at his back, the quarterback struggled at times. McSorley was nearly picked off twice by the Scarlet Knights, once in the Rutgers end zone, and he averaged 12.35 yards per completion on the evening. McSorley was averaging 18.96 yards per hookup during Penn State’s winning streak entering Saturday.
We’ll see if Saturday in State College against Michigan State, with rain and snow in the early forecast, is any different.
▪ Five first downs, 12 punts and 87 total yards (1.7 yards per play) — right now, Rutgers is the definition of ugly football.