The Nittany Lions of Penn State and the Panthers of Pittsburgh have not played each other since September 16, 2000. That’s right, it’s been more than a decade since the two met on the gridiron. Pittsburgh won that matchup 12-0.
They’ll face off this week in Pittsburgh with the Panthers opening as -4 point favorites and the early bettors pushing that number to -6 as of late Monday.
A lot has changed with the programs since then. But even now, a lot has changed at each school from last year, heading into this Game. Penn State is trying to adjust to a new starting quarterback. Last year it was Christian Hackenberg. This year it’s Trace McSorley. Last season, Pitt adjusted to playing without star running back James Conner. Now he’s back. In his place in 2015 Tyler Boyd was a threat in the passing Game. Boyd is now a rookie in the NFL.
Pitt is coming off a 28-7 win over Villanova. Conner was back from an offseason battle with cancer. He was contained well by the Wildcats, rushing the ball 17 times for 53 yards and a touchdown, while also catching three passes for 16 yards and another score. In his absence last season, Qadree Ollison ran for over 1,000 yards. Ollison added 7 carries for 30 yards in the win. There is certainly potential for a dynamic duo to be formed in the backfield, but it may take some time for Conner to adjust to fully being back and for Ollison to adjust to the role of backup running back again.
Nathan Peterman managed the Game fairly well, completing 19-of-32 pass attempts for 175 yards and two touchdowns. His top target was SCott Orndoff. The tight end caught five passes for 68 yards. Peterman was sacked and fumbled the ball, which was returned for Villanova’s only score of the Game, in the third quarter.
Penn State defeated Kent State 33-13 over the weekend. The Nittany Lions relied on the ground Game to get going. Penn State only led 16-13 at halftime, before controlling the second half for the final margin.
Saquon Barkley led the attack for Penn State with 22 carries for 105 yards and a touchdown. The productive performance was consistent with what Barkley did as a freshman in 2015, rushing the ball 182 times for 1,076 yards and seven touchdowns.
McSorley, much like Peterman, was simply asked to manage the Game for Penn State. Their stat lines were remarkably similar, too. McSorley went 16-of-31 for 209 yards and two touchdowns. In fact, McSorley even fumbled the ball once on a sack, which was returned for a touchdown by Kent State.
Neither side gave up a lot defensively, but this is the side of the ball where separation can be found in their performances from Saturday. Penn State gave up 279 yards on 69 plays — an average of 4.0 yards per play. Pitt was even more impressive, allowing only 172 total yards on 85 plays — an average of 2.0 yards per play.
Our Pick – This Game as the potential to be a good close Game. Neither team looks ready to set the world on fire. Pitt has trouble extending any kind of a margin last season while Penn State played some very good teams close. We see more of the same here. Willing to take any points available. As of this writing, that would be +6. Penn State +6