Depending on what side of the fence you are on, the Pitt-Penn State rivalry could be your “Super Bowl” or “just like beating Akron”. Regardless of your feeling, it wasn’t much to watch as Penn State blew the wheels off of Pitt, 51-6. So what went wrong for Pitt?
In the third installment out of four in the current contract of this rivalry, Penn State continued running up the score on Pitt because the two teams genuinely don’t care for each other. Fueled mainly through the war of words between Penn State head coach James Franklin and Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi, the rivalry seemed to be at a peak before Saturday night’s primetime matchup.
What Went Wrong For Pitt Against Penn State?
After Penn State’s near scare just a week ago when they were almost upset by Appalachian State, it was assumed that the game would be much closer. Pitt was able to beat their cupcake Albany opponent pretty handily in week one.
The Nittany Lions had to show a lot more than they wanted to against Appalachian State in order to get the win. Pitt, however, couldn’t take advantage of the tape. Penn State continued exploiting the many mistakes the Panthers made throughout the game.
Let’s dig deeper to see what needs to improve as they head toward the rest of their grueling non-conference schedule.
Special Teams Wasn’t Pittsburgh’s Specialty
It all started when the Panthers scored their first touchdown.
Running back Qadree Ollison took a sweep 13 yards in for the touchdown and seemingly locked up an early tie with the Nittany Lions. What happened next is still a bit of a mystery.
After a bad snap on the PAT in the slippery weather, holder Kirk Christodoulou ended up with the ball and tried running it into the end zone for a two-point conversion. The attempt failed and Pitt trailed still had a 7-6 deficit. .
The Nittany Lions then drove down the field into scoring position again. But kicker Jake Pinegar missed his 45 yard field goal attempt giving the Panthers field position.
After a few more drives, the Panthers had the opportunity to bury a 35-yard field goal. Kicker Alex Kessman yanked it wide right and the madness ensued for Pitt.
Christodoulou had six punting opportunities on the night. His long was 42 and he averaged a measly 33.7 yards per punt. Both numbers are poor totals in a game all about field positioning with the bad weather. He even had a punt blocked and fumbled another one. It wasn’t his best night and the special teams didn’t get much going.
Pickett’s Charge Halted Early And Often
Sophomore quarterback Kenny Pickett pulled off the loud upset of Miami in the season finale last year. That cemented his job status as the starter this year. He looked good again facing Albany last week. But his youth showed against the stingy Nittany Lions defense and the inclement weather.
Pickett ended up 9-of-18 for 55 yards and threw an interception. While he rushed for 30 yards and looked mobile on his feet, he couldn’t quite pull off the feat Nathan Peterman, did two seasons ago in taking down Penn State at Heinz Field.
Pickett has only made three starts in college and still has tons of room to grow. The upset last season made fans believe he might be the next best thing in college football. It prompting some fans to call him “Kenny Heisman”.
The brakes were pumped quickly on that train after this lopsided loss. They have Ricky Town, a USC grad transfer, in-house as well if Pickett really hits a wall.
As the standings are now, Pitt has four more games against ranked opponents this season including non-conference matchups with UCF and Notre Dame. His true mettle will be tested early and often for the remainder of the season.
Stubborn Coaching By Narduzzi
The Panthers’ brash coach is very set in his ways which has upset many Pitt fans over the three-plus years of his tenure.
Despite back-to-back eight win seasons before the ugly 5-7 setback in 2017, Narduzzi hasn’t always had the smoothest popularity among Panther faithful.
Interestingly enough, when the Panthers began digging themselves into a hole, Narduzzi kept the ball on the ground. While it worked for about a quarter, the Nittany Lions began eating up the Panthers’ run game and taking over the momentum more and more each drive.
This led to being continually stuffed. Eventually, the ugly 45 point deficit the Panthers faced when the clock hit triple zero’s in the fourth quarter.
“Ultimately, everything lays right on my chest,” Narduzzi said to the media following the game. “I’ll take it all. We obviously didn’t have them ready to go in any capacity: offensively, defensively or special teams.”
There were also 14 penalties on the Panthers, which shows a lack of discipline issue. One of them was actually on Narduzzi for chewing out an official in the first quarter on a call he wasn’t very happy about. Needless to say, he didn’t quite help his own team’s cause.
What Lies Ahead For Pitt?
Georgia Tech travels to Heinz Field this Saturday in a game that could be much easier for Pitt.
It won’t be cupcake Albany and Georgia Tech actually opened as a 3.5 point favorite over the beaten down Panthers. But it should be less of a test than the Nittany Lions provided.
With matchups at North Carolina and at Central Florida after that, it would behoove the Panthers to try and come out of their three game home stand with a positive record.