New Jersey native Austin Johnson didn’t mind the hostile greeting from Rutgers fans when Penn State’s buses arrived at High Point Solutions Stadium.
“I felt like I was home,” Johnson said with a laugh. “I felt like I was home, so I mean it just feels good to be back in New Jersey playing a game here and getting to see everybody. I know a lot of people on the Rutgers team. I played against them in high school, worked out with them and stuff like that.
“It’s just a great atmosphere and even though we were away, it felt like we were home.”
Johnson contributed to a dominant performance by the Penn State defense in the Nittany Lions’ 13-10 win Saturday in front of a record crowd of 53,774.
The Scarlet Knights fans came to see Rutgers’ first game as a member of the Big Ten against a Penn State team with 15 New Jersey natives on the roster.
Rutgers fell short, but Scarlet Knights coach Kyle Flood started his postgame press conference by thanking the students and fans for their support.
“I thought the game day environment here today was as good as any in the country,” Flood said. “And I think what we’re going to find out here at Rutgers is as the teams from (the) Big Ten continue to come in, it will be like that on a weekly basis, and that’s exciting I think for our program.”
The atmosphere left an impression on James Franklin in his first Big Ten contest as Penn State’s head coach.
“There was energy, there was electricity,” Franklin said. “When the buses pulled in, there was a group of students that they were waving at us with only one finger up and they were screaming things at us and there was a lot of energy.”
Johnson, who is from Galloway, N.J., enjoyed the chance to play in his home state.
Even though he was portrayed as the enemy on a wanted poster featuring Penn State’s New Jersey natives.
“I’ll gladly take that and put it up on my wall,” Johnson said.
Offensive line remains cause for concern
The question was about Penn State wide receiver Geno Lewis.
After offering some praise for Lewis, who caught six passes for 109 yards Saturday, Franklin started talking about the struggles of the offensive line.
“We can be critical,” Franklin said. “If you guys want to be critical, be critical of me. I got to do a better job of coaching those guys and get them ready. I’m proud of ‘em because they fought.”
The Penn State offensive line was overmatched time and again Saturday. Rutgers sacked Nittany Lions quarterback Christian Hackenberg five times and hurried him eight times.
Rutgers defensive end David Milewski pressured Hackenberg all night.
On Penn State’s third drive, on third down, Hackenberg looked over his shoulder to see Milewski already in the backfield. The quarterback scrambled away from Milewski, only to be sacked by Quentin Gause and Djwany Mera.
In the third quarter, Milewski knocked down two pass attempts on one drive, giving Hackenberg a shove after the second break-up. Milewski finished with three quarterback hurries.
The Penn State running game never got going, either. The Nittany Lions ran for 64 yards on 33 carries, with their long coming on a 10-yard rush by Hackenberg.
“We got to get better,” Franklin said. “If anybody wants to criticize anybody, please criticize me.”
Franklin pleased with special teams
Rutgers blocked two Penn State kicks to push its total to 39 since 2009 — tops in the nation.
With his left arm outstretched, Rutgers’ Kemoko Turay batted down a 34-yard field goal attempt by Sam Ficken, keeping the game scoreless with 1:40 left in the first quarter.
On Penn State’s next drive, with the Nittany Lions trailing 7-0 in the second quarter, the Scarlet Knights’ Leonte Carroo broke through to block a Chris Gulla punt.
“Obviously you can’t have a blocked punt,” Franklin said, “but for the most part I thought we played pretty well on (special) teams.”
The Nittany Lions kept Rutgers kick returner Janarion Grant in check
Grant averaged 24.6 yards on kick returns in 2013 and took one against Fresno State 100 yards for a touchdown. In the Scarlet Knights’ season opener against Washington State, he returned six kicks for 131 yards (21.8) with a long of 30.
Penn State limited Grant to 42 yards on two returns. Ficken knocked two kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks.
“I thought the special teams did their job,” Franklin said. “I mean their No. 1 (Grant) was a real concern for us coming into the game. We were able to minimize him with our kick locations and things like that.”
Nittany Lions add another recruit
A day after Penn State pulled off a come-from-behind win in his home state, New Jersey native Daiquan Kelly committed to the Nittany Lions.
Considered a three-star prospect by Rivals.com and 24/7Sports.com, Kelly was committed to Syracuse. He announced his decision to flip to Penn State on Twitter. His commitment is non-binding until he signs a National Letter of Intent.
The 6-foot-2, 206-pound Kelly was recruited to play outside linebacker. He is a teammate of offensive lineman Steven Gonzalez at Union City High School (Union City, N.J.). Gonzalez is also committed to Penn State.
Kelly’s commitment gives Penn State 20 recruits in the current class.