Penn State at Pitt
Kickoff at 12:00pm, ESPN
After 16 long years, the wait is finally over.
Penn State and Pitt will renew their rivalry this weekend. Last time the two instate foes played each other was in 2000, where the Panthers won an exhilarating game, 12-0.
Penn State leads the all-time series with a 50-42-4 record.
Players to Watch
After an extraordinary freshman campaign, Barkley picked up right where he left off. Against Kent State, the BTN.com Freshman of the Year had 22 carries for 105 yards and a touchdown. The dynamic back was disappointed in his play by his own standards, and will try to run wild against a Pitt defense that allowed 148.8 yards in 2015.
Pitt has produced some great running backs in the past – Tony Dorsett, Curtis Martin, LeSean McCoy – just to name a few. Will James Conner be the next great? Only time will tell. However, the 2014 ACC Player of Year is an inspirational legend already. In his first game back from his knee injury and defeating Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Conner ran for 53 yards and two touchdowns against Villanova. He also caught his first receiving touchdown of his career.
The Nittany Lions haven’t seen a true dual-threat quarterback since Darryl Clark in 2009. McSorley’s performance was impressive in the season opener, completing 16 of 31 attempts for 209 yards and two touchdowns. The junior quarterback also ran for 47 yards on 14 carries, but will have to avoid taking as many hits as he did if he intends to remain the starter all year.
Penn State Keys to Victory
Penn State will have to get Saquon Barkley another 20+ carries, in order to make Pitt load the box. Doing this will lead to a play-action passing game for Trace McSorley, who showed he could throw the deep ball, completing a 43-yard strike to DeAndre Thompkins and a 30-yard touchdown to Mike Geisicki.
Penn State’s defense smothered Kent State’s three quarterbacks last week as they collected seven sacks and forced three turnovers, including a pick-six. The Nittany Lions must carry that pressure over to Heinz Field this week. Pitt quarterback, Nathan Peterman, doesn’t turn the ball over much and will spread the ball to several receivers resourcefully. Penn State will need to make Peterman uncomfortable and force him into making mistakes.
Pitt Keys to Victory
After a sluggish start last week, Coach Narduzzi needs to put the ball in James Conner’s hands early. Conner showed he is not quite back at his top form right now, but he is still Pitt’s best player. Pitt should look to dump it off to Conner in the open field and isolate him one-on-one with the Penn State secondary. Penn State’s James Franklin expects Pitt safety and 2015 ACC Rookie of the Year, Jordan Whitehead, to make his way to the offensive side of the ball and bring some razzle-dazzle.
Pitt’s defense will be facing a far more talented offense this week, compared to Villanova’s, which could only muster up 172 total yards. It appears that Pitt will be without defensive end Dewayne Hendrix and linebacker Elijah Zeise, who were both seen in walking boots this week at practice. The front seven of Pitt will have to limit Saquon Barkley from breaking loose and having another 100-yard performance, and make Trace McSorley one-dimensional with his arm.
Both James Conner and Saquon Barkley will have over 100-yard performances. Penn State’s defense will force more turnovers than Pitt’s. Trace McSorley will throw a late-game touchdown to move Penn State to 2-0.
Penn State – 31, Pitt – 27