Penn State set to face red-hot quarterback
Two weeks ago, Michigan’s passing game would not have been considered a potentially big problem for Penn State.
But after two huge performances from quarterback Jake Rudock, now the Nittany Lions have to be leery of the Wolverines’ air assault.
“Jake Rudock is really coming into his own,” PSU cornerbacks coach Terry Smith said Thursday. “I think he is really comfortable in the system. I think he is taking command of the offense. And I think he is executing the plan that their coaching staff has in place.”
Rudock was considered essentially a game manager until recently, when all of a sudden he has exploded with back-to-back huge games.
Against Rutgers two weeks ago, Rudock, a transfer from Iowa, completed 18-of-25 passes for 337 yards and two touchdowns. He followed that up with an incredible performance last week against Indiana, completing 33-of-46 passes for 440 yards and a school-record six touchdowns.
Now, those numbers were against Rutgers and Indiana, two of the worst defenses in the Big Ten. And Rudock will face a much different kind of challenge this week against Penn State’s defense and exceptional defensive line.
Still, even if those great performances were against bad defenses, Rudock’s confidence has to be soaring heading into Saturday’s game at Beaver Stadium.
“He’s been uniquely good,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said.
Harbaugh also called Rudock “unflappable” and added, “He just does not flinch.”
Rudock graduated from Iowa in May, then transferred to Michigan and has been able to play right away as a grad-student transfer. He started 25 games for the Hawkeyes but was never considered overly productive or efficient.
That description still would have fit him, by the way, until his eruption over the past two weeks.
“They have some big-play targets,” Smith said. “The two receivers, (Jehu) Chesson and (Amara) Darboh, they are making plays. And the tight end (Jake) Butt is making plays. And you can’t throw out the X-factor in Jabrill Peppers.
“They just have a number of weapons that you have to account for on each play, and they are starting to spread it, and it’s making them a little more dangerous each week as the season goes on.”
Harbaugh obviously knows a thing or two about successful quarterbacks, having been one himself in college and the NFL, then coaching Andrew Luck at Stanford and Colin Kaepernick with the 49ers.
It might have just taken some time for the first-year coach to fully understand his quarterback’s potential, which is now showing up.
For the season, Rudock is completing 64.2 percent of his passes for 2,220 yards, 14 TDs and eight interceptions, but he’s been picked off just twice in the past five games.
Penn State’s defense will try to get pressure on Rudock from the line, led by national sack leader Carl Nassib. The Lions might not be in position to blitz much, however, with starting safety Jordan Lucas out for the season with an injury and a lot of younger players in the secondary.
If the Lions do blitz and the defensive backs can’t hold their own in man coverage, Michigan could pull off some big plays down the field.
“Clearly the loss of a senior captain is going to hurt any unit,” Smith said of Lucas. “He was the leader of the secondary. He was the leader on the back end of our defense. He was a guy all of the players in the locker room respect and look to. We are going to lose big-time leadership and a big-time player who could make plays.
“Like anything and any organization in football, we have to have the next guy step up, and that’s Malik Golden. “We have a really good defense, and we expect Malik to step in and fill Jordan’s shoes and play equally or better. That’s just the way we are shaped and molded as a defense. Malik will be ready to step in and play well on Saturday.”