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76 Random Thoughts on Pitt

Random musings on the weekend that was in Pittsburgh

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

On Saturday evening, the Penn State Nittany Lions and the Pittsburgh Panthers engaged in a contest of American football under the lights of Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Nittany Lions emerged victorious, 51-6. I have some thoughts, which are randomly set forth below:

  1. Bright lights, big city. National television.
  2. Three years in, playing Pitt is still fun. It’s certainly more fun playing Pitt in week 2 than it is playing, oh, I don’t know, Kent State.
  3. Or Akron?
  4. Probably not, since they’re the same.
  5. There is more on the line when you play Pitt than other teams. For one, playing Pitt isn’t a guaranteed win (see, e.g., Pitt/Penn State 2016). For another, there are certain...feelings.
  6. It’s not the same kind of feeling that fans get when they see Ohio State or any other big time conference match up on the schedule. When the Buckeyes come to town, the game is certainly winnable, but there’s no shame in losing to one of the best programs in college football. There’s anticipation in the air during that week.
  7. Pitt week is different because that feeling coming in the air tonight isn’t anticipation, it’s anxiety.
  8. It’s been said repeatedly, even by the Panther’s head coach, that Penn State is Pitt’s Super Bowl. It’s the biggest game on their schedule, the one that will give them the most bragging rights. In 2016, Pitt gave Clemson, that season’s national champion, its only blemish. Somehow, though, the only game that Pitt fans spoke about was the 42-39 win over Penn State.
  9. Pitt’s not a great program, but it’s competent enough to pick off a good team in front of a loud home crowd. Losing to that team this year, with these expectations...oh boy.
  10. It’s the same story that’s been true for a long time - Penn State is expected to beat Pitt, and winning doesn’t offer any real benefit. Losing to Pitt, which is plausible, hurts Penn State substantially.
  11. I think playing Pitt has turned out to be a net positive, but I don’t think I need more than 4 games every 10 years. Honestly, I might not need more than 2 games every 10 years.
  12. 3 would be perfect - 2 in State College, 1 in Pittsburgh.
  13. I’m glad I wasn’t there live - the rain was coming down in sheets and I was happy to spend the evening on my couch. I commend all of you that managed to make it through 4 quarters in a torrential downpour.
  14. Despite the rain, there was an actual, honest to goodness atmosphere at Heinz Field on Saturday night. Credit to Pitt for making that happen.
  15. Games under the lights tend to help that vibe, and a good portion of the stadium consisted of Nittany Lions. Still, you could hear a pro-Pitt crowd on national television against a very good team.
  16. Plus, Pitt did right by its new Hall of Fame. I liked that they had the dinner and induction on Friday night and featured all those great athletes the following day before a sold out crowd. It’s pretty impressive to roll out Dan Marino, Tony Dorsett, Mike Ditka, Hugh Green, and Bill Fralic, among others.
  17. If you’re keeping track, you’ve got a great atmosphere with a capacity crowd, Hall of Famers everywhere, and a national television audience. And so, you’d have to presume that Pitt would come out in home version of the classic throwbacks they wore in State College last fall.
  18. And, of course, Pitt blew a perfectly good opportunity by coming out in...their standard blue and gold attire.
  19. Those uniforms suck. Come on, Pitt, be better. The world was watching.
  20. A few years ago, there was a big press release about how this game was going to be referred to as the “Keystone Classic.” Anyone see them refer to it as that this week? At all?
  21. Maybe if we’re lucky, a different Penn State alum can do color commentary on every game we play this year. Who else can we trot out there?
  22. I’m happy to use Keegan-Michael Key as much as he wants to show up in his Penn State attire. But Mark Cuban?
  23. It was pretty bizarre. Cuban graduated from Indiana (our true rival - #PuntWeek), so of course he’s a hater. But showing up on screen decked out in blue and gold and talking about Pitt’s glory days? I mean, he’s from Pittsburgh, but...
  24. And then the Google told me the most amazing thing. Apparently Mark did go to Pitt - for a single year. He transferred to Indiana for the rest of college.
  25. Honestly, that’s just too perfect. Pitt claims 9 mythical national titles, and it’s most famous “alum” went there for exactly one year.
  26. Bet his brother was pretty fired up. Oh wait, he was.

27. Big shout to Brian. Go buy his book!

28. No hard feelings, Mark. Go Mavs.

29. I’m almost as sick of Qadree Ollison as I am of Pat Narduzzi.

30. Also, I vote no more Qadrees/Quadrees in this series ever again. We’ve already seen enough of them.

31. Not because Ollison has an attitude, or anything, but because he’s really very good at football.

32. My biggest concern going into the game was that Pitt would be able to bully Penn State with the power run game, since Ollison is exactly the kind of back that can take advantage of youth and inexperience. For the most part, that was the correct take. He looked like a freight train in the first half.

33. The symbiotic nature of defense is fascinating. Against Appalachian State, our experienced and talented defensive ends struggled in large measure because our defensive tackles were slow off the ball and being minimally disruptive. This week, with the introduction of Kevin Givens into the starting lineup at tackle, the line was getting plenty of penetration. Instead, though, our defensive ends were running past the play, allowing Ollison and his crew to slice through them.

34. The first half showed what a problem that could be. Ollison generated yards and points, but so did freshman Shocky Jacques-Louis (future member of the all-name squad) and sophomore quarterback Kenny Pickett.

35. This was the first time I saw Pickett in action, and I think he was solid. Not great, but solid. He wasn’t asked to do much in the passing game, which was likely weather related. That hurt Pitt’s offense tremendously.

36. What he did, though, was generally solid. He’s a big guy that isn’t asked to do the same kinds of things that a similarly-sized Tommy Stevens is, but he’s relatively evasive and makes things happen with his feet when he needs to.

37. Pickett’s long ball leaves a lot to be desired, and that was especially true in the driving rain. Without a mid-range passing game, Pickett basically handed the ball off or scrambled for yards when the rush came. The one time he tried to go down field, he was picked off by Amani Oruwariye.

38. Speaking of, Oruwariye just has a nose for the ball, doesn’t he?

39. Maybe Film Room or someone in the comments can explain this to me. We know exactly what a Pat Narduzzi-coached Pitt team is going to do on offense. We’ve seen it over the last two years. The jet sweeps, the shovel passes, and running right up the middle. We knew, based on the weather, that this was not a team that was going to pass extensively. With that in mind, I’m wondering why it took us a full half to figure out that the best way to stop Pitt from generating yards was by stopping the run?

40. Frankly, I’m not even sure why we bothered playing the pass at all.

41. Couldn’t have had a better start than Penn State had to this game. A 3-and-out on defense and a one-minute touchdown drive on the first offensive possession? That’ll do.

42. Miles Sanders remains the real deal. I, on the other hand, remain baffled by our running back rotations.

43. Last year, there were multiple instances in which Saquon Barkley would be rolling up yards, only to be pulled for a breather. His replacement would basically be in pass protection duty until Barkley returned. Of course, by that point, everyone knew the ball was going to Barkley on the next play, which predictably resulted in a stalled drive.

44. This year’s rotations are different, but remain frustrating. Sanders was racking up yards nearly every time he touched the ball, so of course at some point we went to our mandatory rotations of Mark Allen and Ricky Slade.

45. Allen was, as usual, perfectly fine. But for a few untimely and questionable penalties, though, Sanders was looking at well over 200 all-purpose yards.

46. Give

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48. Miles

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50. the

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52. football!

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54. As long as he’s running north-south, right Coach?

55. I’ve never seen Franklin get as bent out of shape as I did on Saturday night, and that was apparently because Sanders was trying too hard to Saquon.

56. Last year, Sanders got one carry against Pitt and fumbled. It was unfortunate. This year’s backup running back victim was Ricky Slade, who fumbled twice.

57. For the record, I think he was down the second time as well, but still, you can’t lose the ball like that.

58. I know we want to get Slade work, but I question whether putting a true freshman out there at a night game against a rival in a driving rainstorm is a good personnel choice.

59. I know it was raining, and it’s hard to understate how much that affected these teams on Saturday night, but I can promise you that Ricky’s going to get a lot of work on ball security this week.

60. The rain caused a lot of problems for both teams. I wouldn’t be so quick to hammer Jake Pinegar or Pitt’s specialists, all of whom would likely have had a much easier time on a dry day.

61. I’m less forgiving to the wide receivers, who dropped no less than 5 passes this week. That this continues in separate weeks is the real issue, and it’s coming from our most experienced guys.

62. For those of you who keep talking about how reliable DeAndre Thompkins has been, I think it’s important to point you to January 1, 2017. Thompkins is starting in place of suspended receiver Saeed Blacknall. On the first play, we’ll call what happens miscommunication, to be charitable - Thompkins runs a short route and curls back, but Trace McSorley goes deep down the sideline and the ball is intercepted. On the game’s first play.

63. Thompkins is a great athlete and an experienced guy. He’s a terrific punt returner and he’s made some big plays at receiver. But he wasn’t targeted at all during week 1 and, based on the new depth chart, it’s possible he’s losing his job to Brandon Polk.

64. Trace McSorley is a magician, but he can’t make receivers catch passes. A strong game in tough conditions on Saturday night was nearly negated by freshman mistakes from senior players.

65. The stats don’t bear this out, but Trace had an excellent game. He should have been something like 19-30. Instead, he was 14-30.

66. I’m going to be the 800th person to call KJ Hamler “electric” this week, but that’s fine. He’s earned it.

67. My personal favorite Hamler play on Saturday was the kick return hurdle. I particularly enjoyed Hamler spring-boarding off the defender’s pads like Rey Mysterio.

68. The defensive line was taken to task last week and the first half of this week, so it’s worth pointing out that both Fred Hansard and Ellison Jordan were noticeable on the drive that ended in the Pitt safety.

69. I’m going to laugh for weeks at the “Pitt is Penn State’s safety school” jokes.

70. We finally saw a two-back set! It ended in a loss, but I liked the idea.

71. Yes, Penn State ran up the score. Yes, James Franklin dislikes Pat Narduzzi. Yes, it was worth it.

72. I’m sure James Franklin will sleep just fine this week.

73. Great seeing Sean Clifford out there. Heck of a throw. Way to get your feet wet, No. 14. Same to you, Mac Hippenhammer.

74. Let’s keep tuning things up over the next two weeks. No injuries, lots of experience.

75. On to Kent State.

76. We are...