Pitt comes to Penn State this weekend in an effort to beat the Nittany Lions in Beaver Stadium. Every Penn State fan has this game circled on their calendar. Not because Pitt is an amazing team that Penn State fans wish to beat. Nor because of a rivalry that the outside looking in and Pitt coaches want to revive. No, Penn State fans have had this game circled on their calendar because it is the last of four contracted games between the two schools. Apparently, Penn State vs. Pitt was a bitter rivalry before 1992, but I wasn’t alive for that. After I was born Penn State played the Panthers four times before this four-year series. The one I am old enough to remember was in 2000, I was eight years old. All I know is that my best friend decided to attend Pitt for college instead of joining me at Penn State. That was my first real introduction to the Pitt Panthers.
When it came time for me to get my student football tickets I paid over $200 and was freaking out because I was at Senior Week in Ocean City, MD when it was my turn to get tickets. My sister, who had just graduated from Penn State two months prior, was in charge of getting my seat in the student section. I had been dreaming about sitting in the student section since I was a kid. I got home from the beach and my sister got my tickets. A few days later I walked into my best friend’s house and she got a letter in the mail about Pitt student football tickets. I kid you not, tickets cost $25 and included a t-shirt. That right there was my first real introduction with Pitt football.
Pitt Comes to Penn State
It has been eight years since I found out Pitt student tickets were the price of my White Out t-shirt. If I am being honest it hasn’t been a lovely time. There has been more attention to off-field antics than the actual on-field play. This Saturday Pitt comes to Penn State and I will once again be in Beaver Stadium to watch it all unfold.
Brief History of the Last Four Meetings
My best friend and I graduated from Pitt and Penn State in 2015. There was no reason for us to discuss football throughout college and she doesn’t even really know what goes on during a football game. I have chosen to forgive her for her lack of football knowledge. It is 2015, she has moved and I was going back to Penn State for law school. We had one more peaceful year with no Penn State vs. Pitt football game. Then, 2016 rolled around. Pitt fans actually decided to care about Pitt football again. It became cheaper for a Penn State fan living in Pittsburgh to purchase Pitt football season tickets than buy a single game ticket for the Penn State-Pitt game.
The only win for the Panthers came in that first year. The game ended with a Trace McSorley interception, sealing a 42-39 victory for Pitt. The Panthers had to venture to Beaver Stadium for the 2017 matchup. Penn State won 33-14. Then, last year, back in Heinz Field the Nittany Lions beat Pitt 51-6 in primetime. Since I was born in 1993, Penn State leads the series 5-2. Further, the Nittany Lions lead the all-time series as well 52-43-4.
A Look at the Final Matchup
Penn State Offense vs. Pitt Defense
Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford threw his first collegiate touchdown against Pitt last season in relief for McSorley. In order for the Nittany Lions to see success on Saturday, Clifford has to start strong. Last week against Buffalo, the Penn State offense started slow and went into the half down. Cornerback John Reid and the defense got the momentum shifted at the start of the third quarter, helping the Nittany Lions cruise to a victory in the end.
Against Pitt this week, the offense must strike first and often. The Panther defense has been solid through two games this season, allowing only 82 yards per game on the ground. Therefore, Clifford will have to get the passing game going early because of the uncertainty in the rushing attack. The Pitt secondary could cause trouble for KJ Hamler and company. Damar Hamlin and Paris Ford are both talented and have accounted for 19 tackles through two games and Ford has a forced fumble.
Pitt Offense vs. Penn State Defense
It is likely that the Penn State defense will be too much for the Panthers to handle. The offensive line has allowed five sacks through two games. Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett has thrown for 506 yards and has two touchdowns and two interceptions. In addition, the rushing attack is not as strong as it once was for the Panthers. Pitt running backs are averaging 3.6 yards per carry so far this season. Overall, a Penn State defense that has eight sacks, two interceptions, and one forced fumble already this season should have no trouble with a struggling Pitt offense.
I won’t be surprised if Reid notches his third interception through three games against a pass-heavy Panther offense. One thing the Nittany Lion defense has to do on Saturday is win the battles in the trenches. This was a struggle for the talented defensive front against Buffalo a week ago. If Penn State can win the battles in the front and make Pickett throw the ball before he is ready, the Nittany Lion defense will be no match for the Panther offense.