For five years, Penn State and Pitt’s fanbases had been jawing at each other in anticipation of this series. Pitt, the scrappy little brother, promised that Penn State, established power, would be in for a fight when the games were played. Finally, the time for talk came and went, and the time to prove it on the field arrived.
Little brother punched first, winning a close, hard-fought game that may have ultimately cost the Nittany Lions a chance at a playoff spot. Jokes of 42-39 were made, and bragging rights were kept for a year. All the way from coach to fan, all sorts of comments have been made between the two teams —passive aggressive, dismissive, combative, defiant, you name it, in the lead-up to this game. One thing remained constant; the passion expressed from both sides burned with the intensity of a rivalry that had been waiting to be reignited, like a bear coming out of hibernation. This leads us here.
It all got started when Pitt so generously gave the ball away on their first possession. Grant Haley, thankful for the wonderful gift, returned the pick all the way to the Pitt eight yard line. A play later, Trace McSorley connected with Mike Gesicki for a touchdown. It wouldn’t be the only time McSorley and Gesicki made that connection. In fact, the very next Penn State drive ended with another touchdown grab from Gesicki. The offense remained quiet for the rest of the first half, but scored just enough in the second to keep Pitt at arm’s length.
You have to give credit to the Penn State defense though, as it came to play. The Pitt offense held the ball for 21 minutes and 51 seconds in the first half, and could only muster three points out of it. Max Browne never really felt comfortable in the pocket, an issue aggravated by his two interceptions in the half. When the Panthers finally got on the board, all they could do was trade field goals for Penn State touchdowns, with every successful drive on the Pitt side either ended with a turnover or a field goal. It wouldn’t be until five minutes into the fourth quarter that the Panthers would find the end zone. And even when Pitt thought it had some life left, Marcus Allen ensured that any hopes of a comeback ended with a safety, ensuring the game stayed out of reach for the remainder of the game.
The offense, however, doesn’t get a free pass. The “let’s save Barkley for the second half” strategy may have worked against Akron, but it clearly was not effective against a better opponent. Barkley carried the ball four times in the first half, which is dumbfounding when considering the type of player he is. The offense stalled after the second touchdown of the first quarter, and it wouldn’t score again until 10:32 in the third quarter. I’m not looking for 60 points a game, and in fairness to the offense, they still scored 31 points, but it would be ideal if the Lions didn’t go nearly 25 minutes worth of game time without scoring.
Penn State had an opportunity to pay Pitt back for costing them more than just bragging rights last season. This game was a return to order for the Nittany Lions, a reminder that they were supreme, and that Pitt would always be on the outside looking in. This game was shout out to the committee, a snapshot of what they missed out on. This game, when it was all said and done, was a statement that the domination James Franklin promised three years ago had been delivered.
Penn State will move on from this game quickly, as they are exceptionally competent at doing, and prepare for Georgia State. The approach, however, won’t change. Now that the statements have been made, it’s time for the next opponent on the schedule. The team will regroup and continue on the path they set themselves out to follow this season. See you next year, Panthers.
Penn State closes out the non-conference season against Georgia State, a game that will be played under the lights in front of the blue and white faithful. Kickoff is at 7:30 on BTN.