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No.13 Penn State vs. Pitt: Game Preview

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Penn State and Pitt battle for bragging rights in the final game of the series for quite some time.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 08 Penn State at Pitt Photo by Shelley Lipton/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Penn State looks to remain unbeaten by toppling Pitt for the third consecutive year.

(#13)Penn State (2-0) vs. Pitt (1-1)

Kickoff: Noon, Beaver Stadium, State College, PA

The Betting Line: Penn State -17.5

TV: ABC- Chris Fowler (play-by-play), Todd Blackledge (analyst), Holly Rowe (sideline)

Weather: A warm day with highs in the upper 70s, but chance of showers throughout the day.

COACHES:

James Franklin:

PENN STATE RECORD: 47-21, 6th Year

OVERALL RECORD: 71-36, 9th Year

VS. PITT: 2-1

Pat Narduzzi:

PITT RECORD: 29-25, 5th Year

OVERALL RECORD: Same

VS. PENN STATE: 1-2

NOW THE FUN PART....

PITT OFFENSE VS. PENN STATE DEFENSE

Kenny Pickett returns for his second full season as Pitt’s starting quarterback after taking over late in the 2017 season as a freshman. He may not blow you away as a playmaker, but is an efficient quarterback who has a great feel for the game and can make plays when needed. His junior season got off to a rough start against Virginia, where he completed just 21 of 41 attempts for just 185 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. He bounced back against weaker competition in week two, connecting on 26 of his 37 attempts for 321 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions.

Pickett is able to often pick up yards with his legs, which can be especially frustrating when he finds a way to convert third downs. However, he has just 15 rushing yards in the first two weeks as a result of being sacked five times this season.

Senior wide receiver David Ffrench has been Pickett’s favorite target, with 16 receptions thus far and averaging nearly 100 receiving yards per game. The Panthers like to get the ball in his hands as much as possible, and will likely receive a few carries on Saturday to keep Penn State’s defense on its toes. Ffrench contributed 164 yards and two touchdowns on the ground in 2018. Former Indiana Hoosier Taysir Mack is a large target who has nine catches for 90 yards in two games.

A.J. Davis is the primary running back for the Panthers, and is coming off an 89-yard performance against the Bobcats after gaining just 25 against the Cavaliers. He contributes as a receiver as well, and picked up 65 yards on two catches in week one.

Penn State’s defense will look to get regular pressure on Pickett. Last week, the Nittany Lions only notched one sack against Buffalo, and will need to do better against the Panthers pass-friendly attack. The Bulls also took advantage of the defense playing out of position at times throughout the game, something that Brent Pry will look to improve this week. Being in the right place and making open field tackles are a cornerstone of Pry’s defense, and this area should see stark contrast from a week ago.

PENN STATE OFFENSE VS. PITT DEFENSE

It’s way too early to rely on stats and understand the strength of schedule, but for what it’s worth Pitt yielded 30 points in a week one loss to Virginia, and 10 to Ohio in week two. While Virginia has become a trendy pick to make a NY6 Bowl, it’s probably a safe bet that the Nittany Lions have more firepower on offense and will be a much bigger test for a Pitt defense that will be without a couple key contributors on Saturday.

Redshirt sophomore Jaylen Twyman will test Penn State’s interior line. Twyman could become the breakout star of the Panthers defense, with three sacks already after starting just one game in 2018. The Panthers also have a talented pair of safeties in Damar Hamlin and Paris Ford, who are the two leading tacklers thus far. Ford also contributed a forced fumble, although the Pitt defense has failed to cause a turnover in the first two games. Defensive end Deslin Alexandre has also been disruptive, accumulating two sacks and 2.5 TFLs.

The story of the first two weeks for Penn State’s offense has been the quick start by Sean Clifford, who has not looked like a first-year starting quarterback. In his first two starts, he has completed 66.7 percent of passes with six touchdowns and no interceptions. While Pitt’s defense will provide a stiffer test, it’s promising that he’s performed so efficiently and avoided the mistakes that are extremely common for any new quarterback. He should continue to get better as he becomes more comfortable making progressions to find the optimal receiving target.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Kirk Christodoulou has done a fantastic job punting the ball for the Panthers, averaging 44.1 yards on his eight punts this season. As a sophomore, he averaged 41.4 yards per punt as a sophomore in 2018. Alex Kessman missed his only field goal attempt of the season, but connected on 13 of 17 attempts a year ago.

Ffrench also handles punt return duties, but is averaging just 3.1 yards per return on the season. He had a 26-yard kickoff return on his sole attempt of the young season.

Jordan Stout has continued to impress with kickoff duties, while placekicker Jake Pinegar remains perfect on the season thus far by nailing all three of his field goals, the longest a 38-yarder. Punter Blake Gillikin had a more active day against Buffalo, averaging 41.2 yards on five punts.

KJ Hamler will continue handling return duties for the Nittany Lions, and as you well know, there’s a chance he’ll reach the end zone with each touch.

PREDICTION

Penn State-38, Pitt-16

Pitt will give it everything they have this game. As we’ve learned the past few years, this is an extremely meaningful game for the Pitt community. They are not pleased about the indefinite suspension of this series, and will do everything to hold bragging rights for the foreseeable future until the next time these two programs meet on the gridiron, which isn’t likely until at least 2030.

The fight will be admirable, but Penn State holds too many advantages across the field not to expect to win this game. I’m expecting a game similar to the 2017 contest, which was the last time they met in Beaver Stadium- Pitt will find a way to keep it somewhat close, but Penn State will walk out with a comfortable-enough, if not commanding, victory.

Sean Clifford continues to take full command of the offense with his first 300-yard game that includes touchdown passes to Pat Freiermuth, KJ Hamler and Justin Shorter. Journey Brown leads the team with 80 rushing yards and a score, while Noah Cain bullies his way into the end zone to join the fun.

The Wild Dogs bounce back in a big way with six sacks, including four in the second half as they wear down the Panthers in the trenches. Yetur Gross-Matos contributes two, Robert Windsor adds a sack and fumble recovery, while Shane Simmons has a sack 2 TFLs. Garrett Taylor also halts a Pitt drive deep in Nittany Lions territory with a key interception. The good guys win as they head into a bye week before entering the conference schedule.