After what seemed like a poor week of practices, Penn State took an entire half to get situated and pull away from Buffalo. Getting punched in the mouth early was exactly the sort of game a young team needed, you can’t just walk in and have a victory handed to you. I expect a much crisper effort against Pitt this week, despite the early start. There will likely be an emphasis to get the run game sorted out, but James Franklin will want to leave no doubt on the scoreboard in the final game of this series whatever way he can, so the Panthers, their fans, and the Pittsburgh media are left without anything to hold onto about trying to continue it.
Penn State 41, Pitt 13
I’m as concerned as anyone about the rush offense, and really the offensive sputtering in the first half of the game against Buffalo. But I think that Buffalo came with an excellent overall gameplan, with the sole intention of limiting Penn State’s scoring opportunities, and they executed it extremely well. Kudos to the Bulls.
I think Pitt will try to do the same thing, but I don’t think their offensive line is as good as Buffalo’s. That, coupled with the fact that their top two defensive linemen are out for the season, means the Panthers will struggle a bit more on both sides of the ball compared to last week. A slow first half turns into a blowout.
Penn State 42, Pitt 17
Make no mistake about it, this is Pitt’s Super Bowl. Nothing matters more to Pat Narduzzi and his team than beating Penn State. Pitt coaches, players, students, alumni, and fans alike would all choose going 7-5 with a win over Penn State over going 10-2 with a loss against Penn State. You can expect the Panthers to be amped-up Saturday afternoon, and the Nittany Lions better be ready to match their intensity.
Penn State needs to avoid a slow first half this week. The offensive line and the running game also need to take advantage of Pitt’s two best defensive linemen being out for the season due to injury. If the running game fails to get going on Saturday, it’s time to press the panic button.
It’s not hard to envision a scenario where Penn State’s offense struggles on Saturday. Narduzzi is a defensive minded coach, will have his defense ready to go, and the Nittany Lion offense still has a lot to prove. That said, Sean Spencer’s Wild Dogs should feast on a poor Pitt offensive line and outside of Maurice Ffrench the Panthers do not have any real play makers on offense. So, the Nittany Lion defense should have a great game on Saturday.
Pitt will make Penn State battle on Saturday and the Nittany Lions better be ready to match their intensity. Ultimately, Penn State has too much talent and talent, including a late touchdown to make the game look more lopsided, wins out.
Penn State 30, Pitt 14
Under new offensive coordinator Mark Whipple, Pitt’s offense is predicated on the passing game and completing those passes at a high rate. The problem, you see, is that quarterback Kenny Pickett isn’t all that good at doing this. Pickett struggled mightily against Virginia in week one and while he improved against Ohio a week ago, the difference in the speed of the Ohio defense and the PSU defense is stark.
Defensively, the Panthers two best pass rushers are out for the season and the while Pitt is decent enough on the back end led by Paris Ford and Dane Jackson, the front seven doesn’t exactly strike fear into the heart of Penn State fans.
After a poor first half a week ago, I think the Nittany Lions could come out pretty hot in this one and establish their dominance early on.
Penn State 38, Pitt 13
After watching the Nittany Lions struggle last week, I am way less confident about this week’s game against Pitt. If the Panther running game can get going to take the pressure off their embattled quarterback Kenny Pickett, it could be as close as a 10-point game. With that said, Pitt’s defense isn’t equipped to handle the Nittany Lion receivers (even if the PSU running attack has been lackluster compared to expectations), and KJ Hamler will have another great game against the Panthers.
Penn State has another slow first half, but pulls away late for the victory.
Penn State 31, Pitt 14
I feel like both coaching staffs are going to employ the same strategy defensively: Stack the box to take away the run and force the opposing quarterback to beat them. I trust Sean Clifford to be able to respond to this challenge and feed the rock to his playmakers more consistently than I do Kenny Pickett.
Penn State 31, Pitt 17
Penn State is by far the better team here and I think the coaching staff has kept the playbook really vanilla in preparation for this week. I think this is similar to Buffalo, it will be a close game at half time but I think Penn State runs away with it in the second half.
Penn State 45, Pitt 20
Rivalry games tend to bring the best in teams. This one happens to have a little bit more meaning, as it’s the 100th meeting between the two teams. James Franklin will have you believe that there is zero difference between this game and the one against Idaho a few weeks ago, but don’t fool yourself. A coach that doesn’t care about the rivalry doesn’t pour 51 points when 44 would do. Franklin would love nothing more than to send Pat Narduzzi and the Pitt contingent off with a series-ending embarrassment. Expect another beat down.
Penn State 56, Pitt 17
OVERVIEW: For a win that covered a relatively huge spread, so many of the die-hard Penn Staters’ takes on last week’s win over Buffalo seem overly harsh to me – when a team as well-coached and prepared as Buffalo (watch Lance Leipold get snapped up by a mid-tier Power 5 team by next season) puts as many players in the box as they did on offense and defense to both sell out to stop the run and attempt to neutralize PSU’s oft-mentioned talented defensive line, the stats shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. The biggest one that needs to garner focus, though, is the on the scoreboard at the end of the game – when faced with a lesser talented opponent whose game plan was to sustain long, plodding drives down the field, PSU handled their business much better than others last week, holding a team with over 400 yards of offense to only 13 points on the day. That’s…not terrible?
This week they’ll face a Pitt squad that’s been decimated this early season by injuries, and likely won’t come out so vanilla. James Franklin is many things, but nothing if not a little bit petty – so you can bet that, despite dancing around the topic and euphemizing how he feels about the Pitt program under Narduzzi, he’ll get the Penn State team fired up to take care of business.
PLAYER(S) ON THE SPOT: The offensive line. Message boards are rife with hot takes about the job that Matt Limegrover’s done in his four years at PSU, and with as talented a group as he’s had to work with in Happy Valley, this is the first test on whether the line can keep Sean Clifford clean, *and* open up holes for the talented running backs in that deep corps, with a game plan likely with a few more kinks and differences than we’ve seen so far this year.
DON’T BE SURPRISED IF … The Lions are tied or down at the half again, very reminiscent of 2016. The difference being here, though, that the squad knows they can come back, and come back big, after the win against Buffalo this past week – it’s just a question of whether this young squad can make necessary adjustments between series, rather than in the locker room.
THE PICK: Pitt will come to play; this is their Super Bowl, while as Franklin said in his presser this week, it’s close to any game on PSU’s schedule – and the year that Narduzzi had keychains made up for players and staff for the win over PSU happened to be a pretty good season for the Nittany Lions. It’ll be close for a bit, but PSU’s greater talent and depth (and the noon start) will win out in the end.
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.
Penn State 38, Pitt 16