Rivalry, like all, should be measured in fun
Five things to look for as Penn State looks to avenge last year’s loss and beat Pitt for the first time since 1999.
No. 1: Protect ball
Pitt’s defense cannot stop Penn State’s offense consistently for four quarters. That’s all there is to it.
The Nittany Lions are going to score, and score, and score. Unless they get careless with the ball.
PSU fans love reminiscing about the 48-14 upset over No. 1 Pitt and Dan Marino in 1981. Do you remember that in the game, Marino threw four interceptions, while Pitt also lost three fumbles and committed 13 penalties?
That’s how dominant teams get upset — by beating themselves.
Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley typically have been good at limiting turnovers. But McSorley did throw a costly interception that ended PSU’s hopes late in last year’s 42-39 loss to Pitt, plus he had three picks in the Rose Bowl, one with the game tied with 38 seconds left that led to USC’s winning points.
If the Lions hold onto the ball, they should win easily. If they commit costly turnovers, it would give Pitt new life and hope, then anything can happen. Just ask Marino.
No. 2: Stop run
The Panthers ran for 341 yards in last year’s meeting. They used a lot of misdirection and jet sweeps, catching PSU’s defenders off guard.
The Lions surely have watched the film numerous times to figure out how to stop all that.
It will come down to the defensive linemen staying in their lanes and the linebackers coming up and helping stuff the run. The defenders also have to wrap up and not miss tackles.
This will be a big test for the PSU defense. The Panthers have been able to run on just about everyone for years, and they will have to do so today to keep the chains moving and keep the Lions’ offense off the field.
As always, the fact that PSU rotates so many defensive linemen in and out of the game means that there’s usually fresh guys on the field. That gives the Lions a big advantage later in games against running teams.
No. 3: Controlled excitement
You can guarantee Penn State’s players want this one badly after last year’s loss at Heinz Field. Pitt came out extremely fired up in that one and played great early, starting with a 99-yard TD drive on its first possession.
The Panthers were emotionally charged but played under control. Sometimes when players are too amped up, it can cause them to make mistakes early, and that’s something the Lions will have to avoid today. Both teams, really.
Penn State got off to a fast start last week against Akron, something it struggled with much of last season. Another fast start today would mean big trouble for the Panthers.
No. 4: Enjoy atmosphere
Remember all this. Soak it in. Pitt hasn’t played at PSU in 18 years. Yes, the Panthers will be back in two more years, but after that, there’s no telling when these teams will play again once this four-year series resumption concludes.
Talk smack. Poke fun at the opposing fan base. Brag on whichever school you’re rooting for.
Have fun with this game.
Because this is what college football is all about.
No. 5: Players to watch
PSU: Again, I’m not just going to pick Barkley every week, so today look for McSorley to put up big numbers. Youngstown State threw for more than 300 yards on Pitt. McSorley should do the same.
Pitt: Can’t wait to see QB Max Browne, the USC transfer and former 5-star recruit. He was efficient but not overly impressive last week, completing 17-of-24 for 140 yards and one TD, and will need to have a big day for the Panthers to pull off the upset.
Prediction: A 3-TD point spread? Lions still cover. Penn State 45, Pitt 20.