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Stats And Storylines: Survive And Advance

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Penn State was in the first competitive game of the season and walked away with a win.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 14 Pitt at Penn State Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After two relatively painless wins for the Lions, Pittsburgh took the game to the wire. It is easy to jump to conclusions about the future, comparing Penn State’s overall play on Saturday to the effort that it will take to beat some of the better teams remaining on the schedule. None of that matters.

Penn State was good enough to beat the Panthers, taking the team to 3-0 heading into the bye week. The first Big Ten contest, on the road, will take place in two weeks against the Terps. There will be plenty of time for the coaching staff to address the shortcomings that were revealed this week.

Like just about every team in the country, Penn State will learn and get better as the season progresses. This game was the first real test for the offensive line and new starting quarterback that it is there to protect. While the pass protection was not stellar in the first half, and Clifford got hit consistently for the first time in his collegiate career, we can rest easy knowing that corrections will be made.

The next time we see the team it will have had two weeks to address the issues that came up as the team pulled in its third win of the season. Coaching adjustments will be made. Competition in practice will continue to be fierce. But let’s remember to savor a victory, any victory. Especially one against Pittsburgh.

A better Penn State team will emerge from the adversity. Fans will have extra time to unwind from a game that was not expected to be in the balance in the final minute, and recharge their batteries for the conference schedule.

Early Substitutions

  • Penn State continued to rotate players on both offense and defense early in the game. Mike Miranda started at right guard, C.J. Thorpe came in after a few drives. Thorpe got beat for a sack in the second quarter and overall did not play as well as Miranda. I would not read too much into one game, Thorpe is going to play a lot of football, and play it well.
  • At linebacker Jesse Luketa was the first off the bench, replacing Jan Johnson. Ellis Brooks entered at middle linebacker in the second quarter. Luketa played the best game of his career, finishing with 2 tackles and a pass break up, while facing some of his first experience in a game that was on the line late into the second half. Brooks played well when on the field also, including a great tackle for loss on well-timed blitz.
  • Trent Gordon and Keaton Ellis came in at corner back in the first half. Jonathan Sutherland was the first safety off the bench. Ellis did not play very much but Gordon was on the field throughout the game. Later in the game Jaquan Brisker entered at safety and Donovan Johnson at corner back.
  • PJ Mustipher and Fred Hansard rotated in at defensive tackle while Jayson Oweh and Shane Simmons came in first off the bench at end. The line did not go into the depth chart past the two-deep for the first time this year.

First Half Stats

It was tied 10-10 after two quarters and the yards gained was even as well, with the Lions having 221 and Pitt 215. Pitt managed to sack Sean Clifford three times and the pressure likely contributed to his 6 for 16 start. To the Panthers’ credit, the defense contested a couple of passes that probably would have been catches had there not been a hand on the ball ripping it out. Also, Clifford made a couple of low percentage throws, deep, to try to loosen up the defense.

Penn State got 91 yards on one run by Journey Brown but the rest of the half got -1 net yards on the ground. Pittsburgh didn’t do much better on the ground, settling for 30 yards.

Micah Parsons led the defense with 6 tackles, 5 solo. Jordan Stout hit a 57-yard field goal at the end of the half to set a new Penn State record.

Closing It Out

Noah Cain got his first chance in the backfield during the second drive of the second half. He got some of the first chunks of positive yardage on the ground. Cain had 6 carries for 40 yards and caught a 13-yard pass during a touchdown drive that put the Lions up 17-10 with 5:50 to play in the third quarter.

At the time it did not seem like that would be the end of the scoring, but it was.

Jan Johnson and Cam Brown each had sacks on the next Pitt drive to force a three and out. The defense picked up on both sides and it became a battle for field position. There were six consecutive punts before Pitt went for it on 4th and 1 on their own 38. They picked it up all the way to the Penn State 21. A couple plays later a pass to the 1-yard line set up a goal line stand for the Lions. After 3 plays didn’t gain an inch, Pitt chose to go for the field goal with 4:54 to go in the game. The kick hit the left upright and bounced out, preserving the one touchdown lead.

After a Penn State punt, the Panthers had one last chance with 1:56 to go. Shaka Toney sacked Kenny Pickett with one minute to play, forcing a 3rd and 17. Pitt picked it up with a great catch on the sideline by Taysir Mack. Mack finished with 12 catches and 125 yards, but more importantly, no touchdowns. One last play from the 26 provided a toss into the end zone and the ball fell to the ground off the hand of a leaping Cam Brown.

Wrap Up

Using either statistics or the eyeball test, it was clear that there were some plays that could have been made by Penn State that were not. Other times it was a case of the Panthers making plays and executing a solid game plan.

The deep pass to the 1-yard line late in the game over the top of Donovan Johnson, with Lamont Wade there to help, was a great catch under tight coverage. Johnson had his arm in there, trying to get the ball loose. Wade tried to knock the ball loose as well. There were a few plays similar to that which, if looked at from a neutral perspective, are easier to see that Pittsburgh made a great play rather than the Lions having done something wrong.

In the end, the tackle by Johnson and Wade set up the goal line stand that turned away Pittsburgh’s best shot to tie the game. It was a win against an in-state foe. The glass is not half-full, it’s 3-0 heading into a bye week and good vibes should be spilling over the top.

There will be other games that go down to the wire as the season plays out, let’s hope Penn State wins those as well.