Penn State Feeds Off Pittsburgh Errors in Rout
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – There were a lot of question marks about Penn State heading into its showdown against Pittsburgh following an up and down week one performance.
The Nittany Lions responded to those questions in a big way.
Penn State capitalized on Pittsburgh’s many mistakes and used a dominant second half to rout the Panthers 51-6 in the 99th meeting between the two in-state rivals.
“That’s a good football team we played tonight, they are very well coached,” Penn State head coach James Franklin said. “It’s a tough environment to play in. They were juiced up, we were juiced up, but we were able to make some clutch plays.”
The Nittany Lions outscored Pitt 37-0 in the final two quarters, as the Panthers failed to cross midfield in the second half until one minute left in the game.
Pitt used its potent rushing attack in the first half to move the ball on the Penn State defense and accumulate 231 rushing yards in the first half alone.
“We know that’s who they are and that’s the mentality of the head coach,” Franklin said. “That’s kind of how their program is built.
“I don’t think there is any doubt about it, but we gave up some big plays, but we played great clutch defense in the first half and we only gave up six points.”
The rushing attack that the Panthers relied on in the first half was nowhere to be found in the second half. Penn State held Pitt to only 14 rushing yards in the second half.
Penn State got on the board first after a 32-yard run by KJ Hamler, following a Pitt three and out on the opening drive of the game.
The Panthers quickly responded with a 75-yard touchdown drive capped off with a 13-yard run by Qadree Ollison.
But in the rainy conditions, the hold on the extra point attempt was bobbled and Pitt was unable to tie up the game; the first of many errors that would haunt the Panthers on Saturday evening.
The Panthers drove into field goal range on their next drive and attempted a 35-yard field goal, but once again a bobbled hold resulted in a missed field goal.
Following a Ricky Slade fumble, the Panthers moved the ball down the field again but were faced with a 4th and 3 at the Penn State 4-yard line. But the Penn State defense stepped up and stopped Ollison behind the line of scrimmage.
“I didn’t think we played great defensive football in the first half, but we played clutch defense in the first half,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “We gave up big runs, but we stepped up and made plays when it mattered most so I thought that was really important for us.”
The following Pitt drive, the Panthers were forced to punt and faced special teams’ adversity for the third time in the first half.
Kirk Christodoulou, Pitt's punter, dropped the snap and allowed Penn State to takeover in Pitt territory with just over a minute left in the half.
Penn State in comparison had a lights out special teams performance with Blake Gillikin pinning the Panthers deep in their own territory despite the bad weather.
“I thought [Gillikin] was a big difference in the game this week compared to last week,” Franklin said. “Tough weather conditions and he was able to punt the ball and swing field position when we needed him too.”
Trace McSorley punished the Panthers with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Hamler, who found the end zone for the second time on the night
“I think we all see why there was so much buzz around KJ Hamler and Trace just continues to throw touchdown passes,” Franklin said.
It only took eight plays in the second half for Penn State to gain a 21-6 lead after a McSorley 4-yard third down run.
At the start of the next Panthers drive, Pitt got flagged for an illegal block in the back and a false start which put the Panthers at their own four-yard line. The Panthers were penalized 14 times for 116 yards.
And for the second straight year, Penn State forced a Pitt safety, giving the Nittany Lions a 17-point advantage.
DeAndre Thompkins, who dropped multiple passes throughout the game, returned the punt 39-yards for a touchdown putting an exclamation point on a dominant third quarter for the Nittany Lions.
To start the fourth quarter, Mac Hippenhammer, a two-sport athlete at Penn State, picked up his first career catch an 11-yard touchdown reception to give the Nittany Lions a 37-6 lead.
Sean Clifford put a cap on the scoring for the Nittany Lions with a 34-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Polk, on his first ever collegiate pass attempt.
The Nittany Lions will return home to Beaver Stadium next weekend for a matchup with Kent State.
Ben Ferree is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.