PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) — After the worst start in school history, Penn State is starting to play like the Nittany Lions of old.
Sean Clifford threw a 29-yard touchdown and Penn State's defense set up three scores with stops or takeaways on Saturday in a 23-7 victory over Rutgers that gave the program its 900th win.
Penn State (2-5, 2-5 Big Ten) dominated both sides of the ball, outgained Rutgers 381-204 and held the Scarlet Knights to a season-low for points. The win was the second straight for the Nittany Lions and their 14th in a row over the Scarlet Knights (2-5, 2-5).
“This program is not a losing program, this is not who we are,” said Clifford, who was 15 of 22 for 133 yards and an interception on a cold, windy day. “We had a rough start and a lot of things factor into that, but we know that we’re not a losing program. We didn’t come here to lose. It’s just getting back to ourselves. It was five weeks in a row that we were completely out of whack.”
Clifford opened the scoring with a 29-yard touchdown pass to true freshman Parker Washington with 3:32 left in the first quarter. It came after the Nittany Lions stuffed Johnny Langan on a fourth-and-1 from the Rutgers 45 on the Scarlet Knights’ opening possession.
A second stop on a fourth-and-1 from the Rutgers 45 in the second quarter led to a 7-yard touchdown run by Devyn Ford for a 17-0 halftime lead.
Coach James Franklin has seen improvement the past two weeks, especially from his defense, particularly in short yard situations.
“I just think that we’ve gone back to play playing how we played for it over six years, which is, you know, making sure to limit explosive plays.” he said.
Rutgers coach Greg Schiano had no problem with the gambles on fourth down.
“I was good with the decision to go for it, good with the play call," Schiano said. "I believe in our guys. We can convert those. We just didn’t do it. There’s been many times we have. It didn’t happen this time.”
Jordan Stout added a 47-yard field goal early in the third quarter after Rutgers quarterback Noah Vedral fumbled on the second play of the half.
Vedral threw a 3-yard, fourth-down touchdown pass to Bo Melton with 4:56 left in the third quarter. An interception by safety Christian Izien at the Nittany Lions 36 set up the score.
Pinegar added a 27-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.
Rutgers came into the game averaging 30.8 points. It was limited to 12 first downs, 83 yards rushing, 3 of 15 on third-down conversion attempts and 1 of 4 on fourth down.
And this was a game Rutgers thought it had a chance to finally beat Penn State.
“We not only have to catch up to people, but we’ve got to pass them," Schiano said. "Certainly, Penn State’s one of those programs. Today, we didn’t show that.”
Penn State: The Nittany Lions finally looked like the team that was ranked No. 7 in the preseason poll. The ineptitude of the opening five games seemingly has been laid to rest.
Rutgers: By far the Scarlet Knights worst performance of the season. The gap with Penn State is as big as ever.
Penn State: Plays host to Michigan State
Rutgers: At Maryland
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