Penn State vs. Pitt Preview
ComRadio's own David Arroyo, Zach Seyko, Zach Kaplan and Brian McLaughlin break down this week's Keystone Classic between the Nittany Lions and the University of Pittsburgh. Coverage begins Saturday at 10 a.m. on ComRadio.
After an exciting home victory against the Kent State Golden Flashes to open the 2016 season, the Penn State Nittany Lions (1-0, 0-0 Big Ten) look ahead to a much-anticipated showdown against their in-state rivals, the Pittsburgh Panthers (1-0, 0-0 ACC) this Saturday. This is an essential non-conference game with big implications for both teams early on in the season.
Although Penn State enters as an underdog at Heinz Field this weekend, the Blue and White have the historical edge against Pitt with a 50-42-4 record with their first meeting 1893. While the two teams have faced each other 96 times, there last showing was in 2000 with a 12-0 shutout at the hands of Pitt and their stifling defense.
The Nittany Lions and the Panthers both secured victories in their season debuts last weekend. The Panthers successfully routed the Villanova Wildcats 28-7 with solid defensive output and overshadowed offensive woes. James Conner, Pitt’s leading rusher, scored two touchdowns but also only averaged 3.1 rushing yards per attempt. His numbers can also be attributed to Pitt’s offensive line woes with botched snaps and their inability to create opportunity.
Similar to Pitt’s victory, Penn State beat Kent State 33-13 with some seemingly obvious first game jitters and need for adjustment. Trace McSorley’s debut as Penn State’s starting quarterback had some missed throws and miscues, while the adjusting defense made Kent State’s 13 points look hard to manage.
Although the Panthers have the edge, the Nittany Lions have holes they can focus on and exploit. The Panthers second-year head coach Pat Narduzzi and new offensive coordinator, Matt Canada have questions to answer in the form of Conner’s return to stardom after receiving Hodgkin’s lymphoma treatments in the offseason and how to replace wide-receiver Tyler Boyd. With senior quarterback Nate Peterman at the helm, he can help adjust his offense to help Conner return to his 2014 form or adjust sophomore running back Qadree Ollison to the offensive scheme, while also increasing the receptions of targets Dontez Ford, Zach Challingsworth and Scott Orndoff.
While Pitt’s offensive woes are in question and transitioning, Pitt has less to worry about in their solid defensive core with senior defensive line senior, Ejuan Price at the forefront. Price explodes off the edge with 19.5 tackles and 11.5 sacks for losses last season. Alongside Price are seniors Tyrique Jarret and Shakir Soto who create an equally dynamic duo and a threat for offensive lines. Sophomore safety and 2015 ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year Jordan Whitehead also add formidability to Pitt’s nationally ranked defense.
After the Nittany Lion's victory over the Golden Flashes, all eyes are on Joe Moorhead offensive scheme. McSorley’s performance last Saturday was neither encouraging nor disastrous; perhaps Moorhead and his quarterback were simply hiding their hand against a lesser opponent. The Blue and White faithful should expect less running from McSorley (47 yards on 14 carries) after the scary helmet-to-helmet tackle with an opposing linebacker and even more output from sophomore Saquon Barkley’s 105 rushing yards against Kent State’s defense.
All eyes are on Barkley and Connor’s match-up with Barkley having the edge, especially since he has proven himself against big name defenses in the past, like Ohio State and Michigan State, and the possibility of another week of a struggling offensive line for the Panthers.
Last Saturday, Penn State’s defense also failed to reach their potential with too many missed tackles. Brent Pry’s defense faces an even better offensive line-up in Canada’s offensive scheme. Although the offensive showdown is stealing headlines, if Penn State’s defensive strategy fails expect a loss at a wide margin for the Nittany Lions.
The Penn State Nittany Lions are scheduled to kickoff a revived rivalry against the Pittsburgh Panthers at 12 p.m. on Saturday at Heinz Field.
Madeleine Balestrier is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact her, email email@example.com.
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