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Rivalry Renewed: Penn State 39, Pitt 42

On a game where Penn State found itself down three scores, the comeback came just short as a late interception seals the game.

NCAA Football: Penn State at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s rewind for a minute: It’s 2011. The Penn State athletic department just announced they’re scheduling a home-and-home series with longtime rival Pitt. The anticipation built, and words followed. The renewal was so well received that soon after both schools’ athletic departments announced an additional two games to the series.

The game started promising on offense, but a botched snap removed all momentum on that drive. Pitt, on the other hand, responded by driving all the way from the half-yard line and scoring a touchdown. Pitt’s strategy was to establish their running game early, and it worked: Pitt threw just one pass on the drive. Things didn’t get much better after McSorley fumbled the ball on the next possession, giving Pitt a 14-0 lead to begin the game.

For the second straight game we saw an defense that needed to settle down. Penn State found itself down 28-7 in the second quarter, its saving grace being a 59-yard punt return from John Reid. All the problems that showed up against Kent State on defense reared their ugly heads again against Pitt, but this time they weren’t lucky enough to hold the opponent to 6 points on offense. Brent Pry has exactly one game to get his defense to perform at a high level from the start of the game, as the rest of the schedule won’t be as forgiving.

Second half adjustments were again a key. Pitt came with the same strategy, tried to pound the ball on the ground, but it wasn’t as effective as it was in the first half. The Panthers still got enough production on the ground to add another two scores, but Penn State played better than they did in the first half, and were able to weather the storm.

Down 21 - 35, the defense clamped down while the offense cleaned up its game, which slowed down Pitt’s running attack. Three scoring drives later (one aided by a Pitt fumble in their own 10-yard line), Penn State suddenly found itself down 39-42 with five minutes left in the game. On fourth and 16 from its own 34-yard line, McSorley threw a bullet to DeAndre Tompkins and kept this drive alive. His turnover two players later, however, sealed the game for Pitt.

One area where I can’t complain is special teams. They played as well as you could have asked of them, except a few returns here and there. It’s encouraging to see that, while we have many areas to work on, special teams isn’t going to be one of them.

Three Key Takeaways

1) The issues on defense are real - Yes, Pitt’s strength is its offensive line. However, Pitt was able to do whatever they wanted on offense. Jason Cabinda being out doesn’t account for over 300 yards on the ground for Pitt.

2) Offense needs to clean up the turnovers - Three fumbles in the game gave Pitt a much easier time than they should have. Two of those turnovers turned into points for Pitt, as both of those drives started in Penn State territory.

3) Treat it properly - Hey James From State College, maybe next year, you mind not treating this game like just another game? K thanks.

Looking Ahead

Penn State looks to avenge its loss to Temple next week in a game that will hopefully serve as a wake-up call for the defense. Game will be on BTN at Noon.