Penn State Edges Pittsburgh 17-10 in 100th Edition of Keystone Classic
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – The 13th-ranked Penn State Nittany Lions (3-0) eked out a thrilling 17-10 victory over in-state rival Pittsburgh (1-2) on Saturday in the 100th, and possibly final, edition of the Keystone Classic.
In the week leading up to the game, back-and-forth banter between James Franklin and Pat Narduzzi, head coaches of Penn State and Pittsburgh, respectively, only heightened tensions between two historic rivals meeting for what could be the final time. With jabs being traded and bragging rights on the line, one might think that Beaver Stadium was bound to feature a chippy match on both ends.
But the Nittany Lions and Panthers played a surprisingly clean game with only five penalties called in total. And despite a damp playing field, thanks to heavy rains and a severe thunderstorm warning that delayed kickoff for 35 minutes, the turnover battle was clean too, as neither Pittsburgh nor Penn State recorded an interception or lost a fumble.
The same can’t be said for the offense though, especially for Penn State. Sophomore quarterback Sean Clifford struggled all game long, finishing 14-for-30 with numerous deep balls thrown well over the heads of his receivers.
“It’s not the frustration at myself, it’s the frustration of letting down [my teammates],” Clifford said. “KJ [Hamler], for example, in the post: That’s a touchdown… He had three to four yards of separation. I just can’t miss that. It doesn’t come every play.”
In terms of quarterbacking, it was Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett who really stole the show. Pickett lit up the Penn State defense, completing 35 passes on 51 attempts for 372 yards.
But Pickett’s offensive spectacle was simply the exception. Pittsburgh only gained 24 yards on the ground, and aside from an 85-yard rush from sophomore Journey Brown, Penn State rushed for just 82 yards on 31 attempts: an average of 2.6 yards per rush.
There were a handful of standouts for Penn State, though. Sophomore kicker Jordan Stout booted through a 57-yard field goal at the end of the first half to knot the game at 10. Stout’s 57-yarder broke a school record for distance established in 1975.
Another notable name was freshman back Noah Cain. Cain only played on one series, but he made the most of appearance, rushing for 40 yards on six attempts, hauling in another 13 yards on one reception, and scoring what would be the game-deciding touchdown midway through the third quarter.
“I did think that [Cain] ran really well on that drive,” Franklin said. “He’s not going to do a whole lot that blows you away, but he’s just so productive.”
With Cain’s efforts putting Penn State on top 17-10, the Panthers found themselves needing a touchdown to tie. After a nine-play, 65-yard drive by Pittsburgh that stalled on the Penn State 1-yard line, Narduzzi made a controversial decision to attempt a field goal on fourth down rather than try for the tying touchdown, despite the fact that Pittsburgh had successfully converted a fourth-and-1 earlier on the same drive. The decision did not pay off, as redshirt junior kicker Alex Kessman missed a 19-yard attempt off the left upright.
The Panthers would end up with one more shot to score, but the Nittany Lions defense held firm, and time ran out on a Pittsburgh team that gave Penn State a fight ‘til the finish.
“We’re happy to get a win against a good football team,” Franklin said. “They obviously had a plan, and they did a really good job of executing the plan.”
Franklin was especially impressed by Pittsburgh’s defense, which held a Penn State offense that scored 124 points in its first two games to just 17 on the day.
“I have a lot of respect for coach Narduzzi as a defensive guy,” Franklin said. “They always play really tough. I think he gets very involved with us in how to attack our defense from a defensive perspective.”
For Penn State, there’s still a lot of cleanup work to be done before the Nittany Lions are ready for tougher opponents like Michigan and Ohio State. But Clifford only sees that as an upside.
“I’m really excited to watch this tape,” Clifford said. “This is going to be the best tape that we’ve had so far for critiquing ourselves.”
With the victory, Penn State increases its lead in the all-time series against Pittsburgh, 53-43-4. The Nittany Lions will go on bye next weekend but will resume play on Friday, Sept. 27, against Maryland in College Park.
DJ Bauer is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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