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49 Random Thoughts on Pitt

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Random musings on the weekend that was against our rival

Pittsburgh v Penn State Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

On Saturday afternoon, the Penn State Nittany Lions and the Pittsburgh Panthers engaged in a contest of American football at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania. The Nittany Lions emerged victorious, 33-14. I have some thoughts, which are randomly set forth below:

  1. Playing Pitt is fun. I still don’t care about it as much as our alums who came of age in the late-70s and early-90s, or those in Western Pennsylvania. I don’t need them to play every single year. But a couple of times per decade? Sure, this game is worth that.
  2. Last week’s crowd was disappointing. This week’s crowd apparently took my characterization personally and decided to show up loud, on time, and into it. Good. Let’s keep it going for the rest of the year.
  3. Those Pitt uniforms are hot fire.
  4. The throwbacks we wore on Saturday are better.
  5. Someone explain to me why Pitt’s athletic department decided a few years ago to rebrand itself as “Pittsburgh” and change the entire color scheme. These colors and uniforms are classic.
  6. Apparently we’ve fixed last year’s slow start problem by just scoring on our first offensive play. Sure, that’ll work.
  7. Lots of handwringing about the offensive and defensive lines after the game. I thought so too, so I rewatched. I stand corrected. The offensive line was generally fine - Pitt did a lot of things well, but the line found space for Saquon Barkley (when he got the ball...more on that later) and protected Trace McSorley relatively well, with Ryan Bates getting beat once for a blindside sack. Despite that protection, Trace had happy feet and seemed to get the yips, overthrowing open receivers and looking uncomfortable.
  8. He still threw three touchdowns, though. Not bad.
  9. The defensive line got a lot of pressure up front and forced those two first half interceptions. On the first, the line collapsed the pocket and got to Max Browne quickly, who then attempted to avoid a sack by trying to fit the ball between two defenders. Instead, he overshot it and gave the ball to Grant Haley. The same issue presented itself on the second pick, but the receiver also looked like he ran a different route than intended. Still, there were multiple defenders in the area and Troy Apke did his best Bernie Williams impression.
  10. It seemed to me that the defensive issues, to the extent those exist when you give up just 14 points to a rival in a Power 5 conference, stem from the middle. The linebackers looked like they had a tough time shedding blocks and Qadree Ollison was shedding tackles. That was my biggest defensive concern going into the year, and we’re going to have to get used to seeing Marcus Allen play down until those issues are resolved.
  11. Marcus Allen. Damn.
  12. First of all, the kid looks like he’s having a great time out there.
  13. Second, he’s a beast. Literally everywhere. He’s Penn State’s impact player and leads the defense’s best unit.
  14. Allen and Haley have this weird symbiotic relationship where one of them makes a big play, then the other immediately has to do so. Sometimes, they work together (see Block 6 and Big Ten Championship 4th Down). Sometimes, they just decide to play a game of “anything you can do, I can do better.”
  15. For instance, here, Haley makes a game altering play within the first two minutes. Not to be outdone, Allen decides that he’s going to generate points through his play.
  16. That poor right tackle didn’t stand a chance of getting in the way of Allen as he darted to Darrin Hall and drove him into the ground.
  17. That wasn’t even the best tackle of the day. We’ll give that one to Nick Scott, who appears to be taking lessons from Cael Sanderson in his spare time. Picture perfect double leg takedown, Nick. Nicely done.
  18. Since we’re talking about the secondary, you have to give credit to the other corners as well. Losing John Reid was a blow, but Christian Campbell and Amani Oruwariye have come to play, breaking up passes and providing blanket coverage on receivers. Quadree Henderson is terrifying, but was held completely in check, catching 2 passes for a meager 5 yards. That’s a good sign for us moving forward.
  19. Can you all jump back on the DaeSean Hamilton train and join me? I’ve been here for years. Tough drop last week, but he made up for it against Pitt with a few nice plays, including one incredible catch in the second half. If he can remain a consistent contributor in the slot, McSorley will have yet another option for big plays in addition to the Truth and Mike Gesicki.
  20. It’s reasonable to be concerned about the lack of a “go-to” receiver after Chris Godwin left for the NFL. Juwan Johnson has the right size and speed, but still needs some seasoning. Irvin Charles still needs some work. Saeed Blacknall is inconsistent. Hamilton is a solid player but doesn’t have the same physical attributes. DeAndre Thompkins provides deep threat capability with loads of athleticism, but not the same power.
  21. Mike Gesicki has basically filled the Chris Godwin role. Although he was a force last year in the passing game, Gesicki has basically taken ownership of the primary receiver role. He appears to often be the first passing option in the RPO, which is what produced Penn State’s first two touchdowns on Saturday.
  22. That first touchdown was magical, as the entire defense was keyed on Barkley and McSorley, only to let Gesicki slip past and let McSorley dump it over their heads. A little alley-oop off the pick and roll.
  23. Credit DeAndre Thompkins for clearing the way all day for both Gesicki (on the second touchdown) and Barkley with strong blocking. It’s something our receivers do better than any others, which allows the Nittany Lions to take advantage of more opportunities.
  24. Pitt’s Dane Jackson owes an apology to the camera man who Gesicki ran over on the second touchdown grab. Jackson shoved Gesicki as he crossed the plane.
  25. Penn State forced a turnover and three punts, then scored on two of its first three drives. Those scoring drives were 4 seconds and 2:43, respectively. At that point, the Nittany Lions were up 14-0 in the first quarter and appeared to take a foot off the gas and put it into cruise control.
  26. The speed of the scoring drives and Pitt’s obsession with ball control explain Barkley’s minimal touches in the first half. Still, not only did he gain yards every time he touched the ball, but he was clearly Penn State’s best weapon. Despite Pitt’s focus on him, Barkley still managed to drive his shoulder through the defense and gain positive yardage.
  27. The first drive of the second half looked like it intended to showcase the Heisman contender. He ripped off runs of 17 and 11 yards on the first two plays of the second half, then inexplicably pulled and replaced by Miles Sanders for the next several plays. Sanders didn’t touch the ball on the next several plays. Barkley finally ended up back in and got tagged for a 5 yard loss. As soon as Saquon was in the backfield, Pitt figured they were going in his direction. They guessed right.
  28. That pattern seemed to repeat itself a few times. Barkley would get some momentum, then get pulled. Not ideal.
  29. Continuing the theme from the first half, Penn State scored on a 1 play, 9 second drive with a 46 yard touchdown pass from McSorley to Barkley. Smart play design with the best player in college football taking a laser from his quarterback in the open field. Exactly what was needed.
  30. At 21-3, this game was functionally over. I recognize there was over a quarter and a half left to play, but that touchdown seemed like the proverbial dagger.
  31. Pitt responded with a field goal of its own, but you can’t trade field goals for touchdowns with this Penn State team and have a shot at winning. The defense held up when it needed to, much like the Paterno-era squads of old. Bend but don’t suck...and they didn’t.
  32. At 21-6, Penn State finally did what they should have done all along - give the ball to Saquon Barkley and let him do the work. Barkley runs for 22, then gets pulled down with a horse collar tackle because no one can catch him. Barkley runs for 11. After two McSorley plays with Andre Robinson in the backfield, Barkley returns with a 2 yard run.
  33. The coup de grace for the drive was an 8 yard touchdown run to open the fourth quarter in which Barkley got back to the line of scrimmage before contact, then lowered his shoulder and barreled through the Pitt defense into the endzone. It was, in a word, magnificent. An incredible show of strength to go along with the rest of his day, where he showed off his speed, agility, and capacity as a receiver. He’s the total package.
  34. Poor Miles Sanders. I’m sure he wanted a shot at this Pitt defense, but his only carry resulted in a fumble. I’m still excited to see him get more work the rest of the year.
  35. Even though he struggled more on Saturday than he had in some time, McSorley threw some darts. The aforementioned pass to Hamilton was a nice toss, as was the touchdown pass to Barkley. He also threw a nice ball to Brandon Polk and drilled one in the chest of DeAndre Thompkins in the second half.
  36. The Quadree I was most concerned with was Henderson, so you can imagine my surprise that Qadree Ollison was the one who had the biggest game. He’s a very good player and that showed all day.
  37. If I never see another shovel pass, it will be too soon.
  38. Not for nothing, but they ran that play what, 5 or 6 times in one possession? Enough already, make an adjustment and get a stop. Good Lord.
  39. Ben Dinucci had a nice couple of plays for Pitt, but I’m not convinced that he’s really a better option than Max Browne. I think it’s clear that Penn State wasn’t really prepared for a mobile quarterback. Once Dinucci came in for a full drive in garbage time, the defense readjusted and was able to figure things out.
  40. Another shout out to special teams, and specifically Blake Gillikin. He put Pitt in unfavorable positions all day and contained Quadree Henderson from shaking loose on a return. Outstanding work. Tip of the cap to DeAndre Thomkins, who showed he wasn’t a one hit wonder and nearly broke another punt return.
  41. Someone should tell Cam Brown that plays in college football are dead when a runner hits the ground.
  42. At the end of the day, Pitt’s entire game plan revolved around holding the ball and keeping Penn State’s offense of the field. That technically worked. The problem, though, is that Penn State managed to score so quickly that it didn’t particularly matter.
  43. In sum, Pitt executed its game plan and Penn State won by 19 anyway.
  44. This offense is the college football version of the Houston Rockets. We’ve done away with the pretense of play-by-play efficiency. Rather, we either get to the rim (James Harden/Saquon Barkley) or shoot from beyond the arc (Everyone else/McSorley long balls) and expect our unusually successful 3-point offense to generate more points than a traditional mid-range game. For what it’s worth, it seems particularly effective. It might also be the only kind of offense that can score with any consistency at all on Alabama.
  45. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, for sure.
  46. This was enjoyable. The trash talk is a good time. Let’s keep doing this.
  47. Do we get a trophy for the Keystone Classic? What would it be if we did?
  48. On to Georgia State.
  49. We are...