USA Today Images

No. 4 Penn State-Pittsburgh observations: Nittany Lions avenge last season's loss

BOX SCORE

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – Trace McSorley threw three touchdown passes as No. 4 Penn State beat Pitt 33-14 on Saturday afternoon at Beaver Stadium.

McSorley overcame a slow start to go 15 for 28 for 164 yards, as PSU improved to 2-0. He also threw an interception.

The first two of his scoring strikes went to tight end Mike Gesicki, who has four TD receptions this season. The other went to Saquon Barkley, who caught four passes for 45 yards in all. He also rushed 14 times for 88 yards and a touchdown.

Backup quarterback Ben DiNucci scored Pitt’s touchdown on a three-yard run with 10:09 left in the game. Alex Kessman added a pair of field goals for the Panthers (1-1).

• McSorley had a rough first half against a Pitt secondary that finished next-to-last in the FBS in passing yardage allowed last year (333.2) and yielded 311 yards through the air in an overtime victory over Youngstown State in its season opener. The Panthers also continue to be without suspended safety Jordan Whitehead. Didn’t matter in the early going. McSorley, often under pressure, was wild high most of the half, going 6 for 15 for 44 yards, and saw his last-second Hail Mary picked by Dane Jackson.

• McSorley went 9 for 13 for 120 yards in the second half, including his 46-yard scoring pass to Barkley in the third quarter. On that play McSorley found his running back single-covered by Saleem Brightwell down the middle. Barkley collected the pass and ran untouched to the end zone.

• Barkley, renowned for his work in the weight room, powered through tacklers while scoring from eight yards out on the first play of the fourth quarter.

• Lions coach James Franklin had identified Panthers’ wide receiver Quadree Henderson as a potential “game-wrecker” in the days leading up to the game, but PSU bottled him up. Henderson, who generated 201 all-purpose yards in Pitt’s 42-39 victory last year, managed 33. He was notably tackled by Nick Scott and Garrett Taylor for losses of seven and six yards on respective first-half punt returns.

• Max Browne had somehow emerged as USC’s starting quarterback to start the 2016 season, only to lose the job to redshirt freshman Sam Darnold before the fourth game — the same Sam Darnold who torched Penn State in the Rose Bowl, and is now regarded as a Heisman candidate. Browne followed the graduate-transfer route to Pitt but, in his second start, threw two first-half interceptions. The first, an overthrow gathered in by PSU cornerback Grant Haley, came four plays into the game and led to the first of McSorley’s TD passes to Gesicki, an eight-yarder.

• The Panthers rushed for 50 of their 70 first-half yards on their last possession before halftime, a 15-play, 77-yard march culminating in Alex Kessman’s 28-yard field goal. Pitt ran 46 plays to PSU’s 24 in the first half, and controlled the ball for 21:51 to Penn State’s 8:09, but trailed 14-3 at the break.

• Pitt made good use of the shovel pass all game long, but particularly on its nine-play, 75-yard TD drive in the fourth quarter. Qadree Ollison took one 30 yards, and Browne found tight end Matt Flanagan for eight on another.

• DiNucci entered the game on third-and-goal at the 3, after Browne lost his helmet on the previous play and by rule had to depart for one play. DiNucci skirted left end to score, then threw yet another shovel pass to Ollison for the two-point conversion, cutting Penn State’s lead to 28-14.

• Besides his early interception, Haley had his first career sack to end Pitt’s second possession. He also combined with defensive end Shareef Miller and safety Nick Scott to stop Henderson for a three-yard loss on a second-and-goal snap in the third quarter. Pitt wound up settling for Kessman’s second field goal.

• Safety Marcus Allen recorded a safety with 5:53 left in the game, beating the block of Jaryd Jones-Smith to tackle running back Darrin Hall in the end zone, after he gathered in a pass from Browne.