Pittsburgh Panthers

For No. 4 Penn State, beating Pittsburgh ends up 'just like beating Akron'

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For No. 4 Penn State, beating Pittsburgh ends up 'just like beating Akron'

BOX SCORE

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – They put up 33 points against a team that might or might not be a rival (more on that in a moment), and won by 19.

And, well, that wasn’t quite enough. Not to them.

“One of the weird things about today, when we got in the locker room, we felt as an offense we didn’t play our best football — that we had chances to put more points on the board,” Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley said after the fourth-ranked Lions beat Pitt 33-14 on Saturday afternoon (see Observations).

There were missed opportunities, momentary struggles, long stretches when McSorley and Co. were marooned on the sidelines while the Panthers controlled the ball. At the same time, the Lions (2-0) had two one-play touchdown drives, and none of their five scoring marches lasted longer than 2:43.

“It was not like a dejected feeling,” McSorley said of the postgame mood, “because we got the win. It was one of those where, like, it didn’t feel like one where we put 33 points on the board. It’s something you like to see, almost, because you put 33 points on the board, guys are whining and down on themselves because we expected more. That’s something that I think is kind of a silver lining for us, that we can keep pushing toward that.”

McSorley finished his day 15 for 28 for 164 and three touchdowns, with one interception. He improved as he went along (9 for 13, 120 yards in the second half), which perhaps stands to reason, given that he was still pondering last year’s meeting when he took the field – one that ended with Pitt hanging on for a 42-39 victory, when he was intercepted in the end zone with 1:15 left.

“That was something, when I think of last year’s game, that stands out a lot,” he said.

As for the larger debate — the rivalry-or-not-a-rivalry discussion that has been beaten to death — coach James Franklin rekindled it during his postgame remarks by saying, “I know last year for their win it was like the Super Bowl, but for us this was just like beating Akron (by a 52-0 count in the opener).”

That dropped a few jaws in the media roo and led to the inevitable follow-up question about how such a statement might play in Pittsburgh.

“I’ve been saying for two years that each win is like the Super Bowl for us,” he said. “You can interpret it however you want. Last week, we beat Akron and it was a great win. This week, we beat Pittsburgh and it was a great win. This win is no more significant than last week.”

Then there was the take of safety Marcus Allen, who contributed a game-high 12 tackles and a safety to Saturday’s effort.

“It’s one game at time,” he said. “We approached this game like every other game, but no one’s naïve. Guys had, like, grudges, a chip on their shoulder, coming into this game.”

The crowd of 109,898, the seventh-largest in Beaver Stadium history and the largest since 2009, was in full froth as well. McSorley had a look around as he emerged from the south tunnel beforehand, something he said he always does.

“Today it was one of those you walked out (and said), ‘Man there’s a lot of people here,’ ” he said.

He threw the first of two touchdown passes to tight end Mike Gesicki after Grant Haley’s interception four plays into the game, then found Gesicki for a 10-yard TD on the Lions’ third possession. But McSorley was just 6 for 15 for 44 yards and a pick in the first half, and as Franklin said, missing “some throws … that he normally doesn’t.”

McSorley admitted to being “just a little bit jittery” — that his feet weren’t settled, that he had a hard time finding his groove.

“I think just kind of the emotions of everything coming into today got the best of me at the beginning,” he said.

Then there was the matter of Pitt’s ball-hoggery. The Panthers’ first-half advantage in time of possession was 21:51-8:09, but they nonetheless trailed, 14-3 — something that called to mind a game PSU’s great 1994 team played against Northwestern.

That day the first-half time advantage belonged to the Wildcats, 24:21-5:39. The score? Penn State 38, Northwestern 3. The final was 45-17, and someone was left to marvel afterward about a Lions team that seemingly didn’t even need the ball to score.

It kind of seemed that way Saturday, too. Penn State added to its lead courtesy of McSorley’s 46-yard TD pass to Saquon Barkley early in the third quarter — a play on which Barkley found himself singled up against linebacker Saleem Brightwell – and scored again when Barkley plowed eight yards into the end zone on the first play of the fourth quarter.

That made it 28-6. The Panthers crept within 1 but could get no closer.

Barkley was solid — 14 carries for 88 yards, four catches for 45 — but the Lions were outgained 342-312 and out-possessed, 38:20-21:40.

The latter stat, Franklin said, is “not as big of a factor as it’s been in the past, but for us we are mainly worried about the scoreboard.”

And in that regard, Saturday was a rousing success. But these guys want more. Always more.

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

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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.

No. 4 Penn State vs. Pittsburgh: Rivalry or not, some revenge on the mind

No. 4 Penn State vs. Pittsburgh: Rivalry or not, some revenge on the mind

No. 4 Penn State (1-0, 0-0 Big Ten) vs. Pittsburgh (1-0, 0-0 ACC)
Beaver Stadium, State College, Pennsylvania
Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ABC

Penn State, having jumped from No. 6 to No. 4 in the major polls, hosts Pitt.

Scouting Penn State
The fourth-ranked Nittany Lions opened their season with a 52-0 rout of Akron, as Saquon Barkley rushed 14 times for 172 yards and two touchdowns, and Trace McSorley threw for two TDs and ran for another. Both scoring passes went to tight end Mike Gesicki, who led both teams with six catches. Juwan Johnson added four receptions for 84 yards in his first career start. DeAndre Thompkins also became the first PSU player since 2008 to return a punt for a touchdown, and the defense limited the Zips to 159 yards. The Lions recorded 14 tackles for loss, three of those by backup defensive tackle Tyrell Chavis, and three sacks. Jarvis Miller and Ryan Buchholz had one each, and Chavis combined with Curtis Cothran for the other.

Scouting Pitt
The Panthers went to overtime to nudge Youngstown State, 28-21, in their opener, on Max Browne’s 11-yard touchdown pass to Jester Weah. Bricen Garner then clinched the game with an end-zone interception. Qadree Ollison rushed 22 times for 91 yards and two TDs, while Browne, a graduate transfer from USC, went 17 for 24 for 140 yards. Wide receiver Quadree Henderson also contributed 155 all-purpose yards, including 77 yards on nine rushes, while linebacker Oluwaseun Idowu and cornerback Dennis Briggs had seven tackles apiece to pace the defense. Safety Jordan Whitehead served the first of a three-game suspension, and the Panthers allowed 311 yards passing.

History
Penn State leads the all-time series, 50-43-4, but the Panthers won last year’s meeting at Heinz Field, 42-39.

Storyline to watch
Two things: Whether the Lions can contain Henderson, who piled up 201 all-purpose yards in last year’s game, and how Pitt defends the pass. The Panthers finished 127th among 128 FBS teams in yards allowed through the air last season (333.2), and saw their struggles continue against Youngstown State.

What’s at stake
Depends who you ask. The Panthers regard this as a rivalry game, while the Lions claim it is not.

Prediction
Rivalry or not, PSU remembers last year.

Penn State 45, Pittsburgh 14