STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Penn State and Rutgers have all the intangible qualities needed to develop a rivalry. Players cross over New Jersey and Pennsylvania state lines to play for each team, some smack talk has surfaced and more than 50,000 fans are expected to pack Rutgers’ stadium for its first conference game.
But the Scarlet Knights are missing a key element of success to make the would-be foils competitive. Rutgers has defeated Penn State twice in 24 tries, once in 1918 and again 70 years later in 1988. The teams haven’t played since 1995, two years after Penn State joined the Big Ten.READ MORE: Retired FDNY Firefighter Suffering From 9/11-Related Illness In Need Of Lifesaving Bone Marrow Transplant
Each team started its week with added incentive to win. Rutgers (2-0) is playing in its first Big Ten game since joining the conference while Penn State has renewed spirits after the NCAA lifted its postseason sanctions imposed amid the fallout of the Jerry Sandusky child abuse sex scandal.
Penn State center Angelo Mangiro says it all adds up to the makings of an exciting scene on Saturday.
“We’ll have to prepare for any atmosphere,” said Mangiro, who grew up in Roxbury, N.J.
Mangiro is one of 15 players from New Jersey on Penn State’s roster, with six more three- and four-star recruits from the state committed to join the Nittany Lions next season. Rutgers, meanwhile, has 12 players from Pennsylvania on its roster.
Mangiro said he fell in love with Penn State at first sight when he was being recruited.
“Once I saw this place, there was really no other school besides here,” he said. “I was a college football fan and my friends on Saturdays, we always tried to watch the big game no matter what the matchup was. Penn State usually seemed to be a part of that.”
Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood isn’t as impressed, referring to Penn State as that “school in Pennsylvania.”
That school was good enough for Penn State running back Bill Belton, who said in July during conference media days that he left New Jersey after high school because he wanted to play big-time football.”
Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg downplays the idea of a rivalry but appreciates the motivation Mangiro and others have in returning to their home state.READ MORE: Harlem Man Arrested After Allegedly Punching Woman, Striking 5-Year-Old Child
“We approach every game like it’s a rivalry game,” said Hackenberg, who leads the Big Ten in passing yardage (386.5 yards per game) and total offense at 388 per game, ranking fourth nationally in both categories.
“Those guys are excited to go back home, but the overall approach is to focus on what we need to do to go in there and play to the best of our ability,” he said.
Penn State receiver Eugene Lewis spoke highly of Rutgers even though its secondary has yielded 350 yards per game in wins over Washington State and Howard.
“On defense they like to play man and come at the quarterback a little bit. These guys like to play press a lot,” Lewis said. “You have to be prepared to be able to get off the line.”
Hackenberg’s inexperienced offensive line continues to be a work in progress. Penn State has averaged 81 rushing yards per game.
“Definitely a balanced offense is something we’re working for as a team,” Hackenberg said. “We’re going to have to do whatever we have to do to win the game when it comes down to it.”
“Whatever that may be, running the ball, or throwing the ball, we’re preparing for both, and preparing for a great football team,” he said.
Maybe even a rival.
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