EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Unbeaten Penn State, a running team all September, went to the air to beat Rutgers, 38-24, last night at Giants Stadium for its fifth straight victory.
Quarterback John Sacca, from Delran, N.J., came home to throw for 303 yards and three touchdowns for the No. 8 Nittany Lions and set up next week's showdown with No. 2 Miami in University Park, Pa.
The Hurricanes held up their end of the confrontation with a 19-16 triumph over Florida State earlier in the day.
Penn State hurdled the last obstacle to the Miami matchup with a strong second-half performance from Sacca, whose older brother Tony passed for 220 yards in a 37-17 victory over the Scarlet Knights a year ago.
"We have an awful lot of work ahead of us," Penn State coach Joe Paterno said of next Saturday's game. "We've got to get better this week just to stay with them."
Sacca, starting his fourth game in place of injured Kerry Collins, made a case for keeping the job by completing 12 of 18 for 236 yards in the second half. For the game, he was 21-for-37. His 303 passing yards account for the third best single-game total by a Penn State quarterback.
He threw two TD passes to O. J. McDuffie, covering 10 and 20 yards, to open a 21-point lead just nine seconds into the fourth quarter. Sacca also threw a 10-yard scoring pass to Kyle Brady on a fourth-and-one, play-action pass in the second quarter.
Sacca struggled in the first half, though, completing nine of 19 passes for 67 yards.
"He always does that," McDuffie said. "He seems to start off shaky, then settle down. [But] he's starting to get control of the game earlier."
Rutgers (3-2) stayed within 7-3 in the first half by stopping the Penn State running game. The Lions scored 17 third-quarter points to take control.
On Penn State's first series of the second half, Sacca combined with fullback Brian O'Neal for a 31-yard pass and with tight end Troy Drayton for 37 yards on consecutive plays. The drive stalled at the 4-yard line with an incompletion, and Craig Fayak kicked a 22-yard field goal.
Penn State's defense got the ball back moments later when linebacker Reggie Givens forced a fumble by Rutgers quarterback Ray Lucas and linebacker Rich McKenzie recovered at the Knights' 20.
Sacca capitalized in six plays, hitting McDuffie in the back of the end zone on third down for a 10-yard touchdown. That made it 17-3.
Penn State pushed the lead to 24-3 on a 3-yard touchdown run by tailback Mike Archie, who replaced Richie Anderson late in the third quarter after Anderson bruised a knee.
Sacca's third touchdown was a 20-yard pass to McDuffie on a inside screen. McDuffie caught a 51-yard pass to set up the TD play.
Down 24-3, Rutgers changed quarterbacks, replacing Lucas, redshirt freshman, with Bryan Fortay. Fortay led the Knights to three touchdowns, including a 42-yard pass to tight end Marco Battaglia. But Rutgers got no closer than 14 points after Penn State opened a 31-10 lead.
Penn State was fortunate to hold that 7-3 halftime lead. The Lions' touchdown came at the end of a 76-yard drive that was aided by a running-into-the kicker penalty. Rutgers' Chuck Mound was flagged for hitting Fayak on a successful 33- yard field goal.
The Lions accepted the penalty, which gave them fourth-and-one at the Rutgers' 10. After each team used a pTC timeout, Sacca beautifully faked a handoff to Anderson and lobbed a 10-yard scoring pass to the wide-open Brady.
Penn State originally called a running play, but reconsidered and decided to go with the pass.
"We said if we make the first down, it's first-and-nine at the 9," Paterno said. "If you take three points off the board, that's not the greatest place to be -- at the 9. I said why don't we decide to go for the whole load? So we went for the whole load."
Penn State 0 7 17 14 -- 38
Rutgers 3 0 7 14 -- 24