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Game Preview: No. 4 Penn State vs. Pitt

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Penn State has some unfinished business as it welcomes the Pitt Panthers to Happy Valley.

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

Penn State looks to settle a score with the Pitt as they welcome the 2016 Pinstripe Bowl Participant to Beaver Stadium for the first time in 18 years.

(4) Penn State (1-0) vs. Pitt (1-0)

Kickoff: 3:30, Beaver Stadium, State College, PA

The Betting Line: Penn State -21

TV: ABC- Joe Tessitore (play-by-play), Todd Blackledge (analyst), Holly Rowe (sideline)

Weather: Incredibly pleasant- sunny and 64, with very little to no chance of rain.

COACHES:

James Franklin:

PENN STATE RECORD: 26-15, 4th Year

OVERALL RECORD: 50-30, 7th Year

VS. PITT: 0-1

Pat Narduzzi:

PITT RECORD: 17-10, 3rd Year

OVERALL RECORD: Same

VS. PENN STATE: 1-0

NOW THE FUN PART....

PITT OFFENSE VS. PENN STATE DEFENSE

Pitt’s offense will be dramatically different than a year ago. Quarterback Nathan Peterman is now with the Buffalo Bills while former ACC Offensive Player of the Year running back James Conner, who tore through Penn State’s defense as the Panthers jumped out to an early lead in 2016, is also chasing NFL glory with the Steelers. The Panthers do return Quadree Henderson, a playmaking receiver who can do damage in a number of ways. Penn State will no doubt focus on containing him, as he has become an extremely valuable component of the Pitt offense.

Peterman’s replacement, Max Browne, had an efficient yet completely unspectacular game against YSU. He completed nearly 71 percent of his passes, but only gained 140 yards and a touchdown through the air. Despite being a first-year starter, Browne brings senior experience and has received quality playing time each of the past four seasons. He is a tall drop-back quarterback, and you can likely expect Penn State to dial up blitzes with its speedy front seven to try to prevent Browne from getting too comfortable in the pocket.

Pitt could be without Qadree Ollison, a dynamic running back who is questionable after suffering an ankle injury in week one. Despite the injury, Ollison still managed to lead the team in both rushing and receiving on the day. Junior Darrin Hall will likely fill his spot if needed, after rushing for 52 yards on 13 carries against YSU.

Penn State displayed its incredibly deep rotation at defensive end, where the second and third units could come in without skipping a beat. It will be interesting to see how they perform in a more contested battle, as they could very well wear down offensive lines in the second half. Defensive end Ryan Buchholz had a breakthrough performance against the Zips, and will have a great opportunity to prove he will be a consistent force.

PITT DEFENSE VS. PENN STATE OFFENSE

Let’s start with a fun fact- Pitt gave up 311 passing yards against YSU in week one. The Panthers will still be without its best defensive player in safety Jordan Whitehead, who is in the midst of a three-game suspension, so things will not likely get any better for the Panthers secondary.

Against the Zips, Penn State started off using Saquon Barkley mainly as a decoy and allowed Trace McSorley to move the ball with his arm and legs. Don’t be surprised if offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead takes the same approach to allow McSorley to test the Pitt secondary early. Actually don’t be surprised by anything Moorhead does, who has proven to be a master of keeping defensive coordinators on their toes.

Pitt did a relatively good job of slowing down Barkley last season, holding him to 4.3 yards per carry and 85 yards on the ground (although Barkley did find the end zone five times on the afternoon). Expect the Panthers to focus on trying to contain him again by stacking the box, and hoping McSorley falters. One thing is for sure- McSorley is a completely different quarterback than he was when Penn State visited Pitt last fall.

Pitt’s wide receiver-turned-linebacker Elijah Zeise is back to help lead the defense after missing nearly all of the 2016 season with an injury. Zeise has the athleticism to be a playmaker on the defensive end, and will be used in different ways to help disrupt the Penn State offense.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Tyler Davis missed the first field goal attempt of his career (that was not blocked) against the Zips, but made up for it with a 47-yarder in the second half. Blake Gillikin didn’t attempt his first punt until the fourth quarter, and averaged 50 yards on two attempts.

DeAndre Thompkins is back at punt returner, and quickly proved to be a dangerous return man. With another big game, he may force teams to kick away from him for the foreseeable future.

Pitt kicker Alex Kessman got his career off to a poor start by missing two chip shot field goals under 30 yards in week one. He did connect on all four extra points in his first collegiate game.

Henderson, who should receive many touches throughout the afternoon, is also a very dangerous kick returner. Sophomore defensive back Jazzee Stocker can also cause problems, and had an impressive 66-yard effort on his sole punt return of the season.

PREDICTION

Penn State- 42, Pitt- 17

There is no doubt Pitt will be coming off a great week of practice, ready to give the Nittany Lions their best shot and notch another victory in the second installment of this revitalized rivalry. They will come out playing tough, and keep Penn State at bay for most of the first half. However, the floodgates will open in the second half as the Nittany Lions high-powered offense really gets things going.

Saquon Barkley keeps his Heisman campaign going strong by rushing for 185 yards, and adding another 60 through the air, with three touchdowns on the afternoon. Juwan Johnson grabs his first career touchdown reception, with Mike Gesicki adding another. Jason Cabinda leads the way on defense with a 15-tackle performance, while Curtis Cothran notches 3.5 tackles for loss, with Christian Campbell contributing a second half interception that proves to be the beginning of the end for the Panthers.