For this weekly column, Minnesota Daily sports reporter Jack White will interview someone knowledgeable about Minnesota’s next opponent. Penn State football beat writer Andrew Rubin of the Daily Collegian, Penn State’s student newspaper, was interviewed this week.
Rubin covers football and lacrosse for the Daily Collegian.
Q: It’s been kind of an up and down year for Penn State so far. What are some positive and negative aspects of this team?
A: I think before this weekend, an area that has been going well is the passing game. A lot of teams have been loading the box up to try to take Saquon Barkley out of the game, one of the better backs in the nation and probably the best back in the Big Ten. For the most part, they’ve done that. But that’s given them a lot of one-on-one matchups. When [Chris Godwin] and [DaeSean Hamilton] are open, and they’ve been open, they’ve really had a good game except for Michigan. Defense, it’s been passing defense because all three starting linebackers are out at the moment.
Q: Going off Saquon Barkley, how has he looked different from last year?
A: It’s been more of the same. I think the areas he’s improved upon is he’s been a lot better at picking up blitzes. Last year, in third and long situations, he wasn’t really a pass protector. Barkley has done a lot of third and long work [this year]. He’s been good at picking up blitzes. As far as running the ball, you still see something special, You still see the highlight reel. You see a couple from every game. But he hasn’t had much to work with this year because defensive coordinators have really keyed in on him. The priority has been stopping him. The offensive coordinator gets him out of the backfield a lot.
Q: An article you wrote discussed how people have criticized Trace McSorely for not keeping the ball enough. Do you think he will start keeping the ball more in the future?
A: I think it depends on what the defensive line gives him. I think Saquon Barkley is obviously a more gifted runner than him. Trace McSorely is a more gifted runner than Christian Hackenberg, but he is not at an elite running back level. If a defensive end really crashes down and there’s room on the outside, I think he’ll keep it, but I don’t know what his thought process is … And I think a part of the thought process is he’s not the biggest quarterback, so it’s probably going to be how much he gets hit.
Q: What have you liked from McSorely so far?
I think on a down and down basis, he has done a really good job on going through his progression and finding a receiver. Joe Moorhead’s offense: 95 percent of plays are three receivers, a single tight end set and a lot of time Barkley or who’s … in the backfield is running an option. I think he’s done a good job of working through the second and third progression and finding that option. But at the same time, there has been plays where timing is off for receivers, he doesn’t have a back, he got intercepted. One of the things he’s done poorly is he holds the ball long at times and gets hit from the blindside. That didn’t happen last week for the first time [at Michigan].
Q: Is the loss to Michigan more of a testament to how good Michigan is or how inconsistent Penn State has looked at times?
A: I think it’s both because I think Michigan is a legitimate playoff contender and Penn State can’t even have that conversation right now. But I think with all the injuries they had, that contributed because Michigan rushed for over 300 yards on the ground. The backup … linebacker gets ejected for targeting and then you’re on to your third string linebacker that walked on. Then you have to burn a redshirt and play him for a bit because the third string linebacker had a knee injury. As far as how good they are …they got blown at last year at Michigan State, blown out last year at Ohio State. They go on the road against top-five teams, not at that level yet.
Q: How do you think this Penn State team will stack up against the Gophers?
I think it’s going to be a shootout because Penn State has not been able to get off the field much. This year, Pitt scored over 40 points. Michigan scored 49 points. Penn State is going to score a lot of points. I see a close, one-possession game.
Speed Round Questions
Q: Number of wins Penn State gets?
Q: Trace McSorley as a quarterback one out of 10?
A: Seven so far.
Q: Best player on Penn State’s offense?
A: Saquon Barkley.
Q: Best player on Penn State’s defense?
A: They’re all injured. Playing, Marcus Allen.
Q: Does Saquon Barkley rush for over 100 yards?
Q: Who wins the Big Ten?
Q: Best player in the Big Ten?
A: J.T. Barrett.
Q: Who wins the Heisman?
A: Lamar Jackson.
Q: Who wins the National Championship?
Q: Score prediction?
A: 28-24 Penn State.