Three Key Stats: Improved Second Half Defense Leads Penn State Past Pitt

By Dan Vecellio on September 9, 2018 at 10:17 am
Sep 8, 2018; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; A lone Pittsburgh Panthers fan sits in the student section during the fourth quarter against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Heinz Field. Penn State won 51-6. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

That was fun. 

Penn State went into Heinz Field on Saturday, looking sluggish for the first 25 minutes or so, going into halftime with a 14-6 lead. Then the switch flipped and the Lions scored 37 unanswered second-half points, routing the Pitt Panthers 51-6 under the lights. How did they do it? Here are three of the statistics that jumped out of the box score.

69 yards allowed in the 2nd half

We won't re-litigate the Nittany Lions' defensive performance in the first half. You can read our halftime thoughts for that. It wasn't great, though, specifically the front seven being mistaken for swiss cheese at times. However, defensive coordinator Brent Pry worked his magic for the second 30-minute stanza, allowing only 69 yards between the third and fourth quarters, including five Panther drives that went for zero yards or less. Nice. Most impressive? Pitt was held the -2 yards in the third quarter.

Pitt Second Half Drive Chart
Plays yards Result
3 -2 PUNT
3 8 PUNT
3 -1 PUNT
3 -1 PUNT
5 0 PUNT
7 23 DOWNS

How exactly did Penn State shut down the Pitt rushing attack in the second half? James Franklin broke down the X's and O's during his post-game press conference.

pass defense: 55 yards 

Part of the reason why the Penn State defense was so dominant in the second half was that the game began to fall more and more on the arm of Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett, who was, well, not good. That flew in the face of what we had heard all week leading up to Saturday's primetime kickoff.


Credit where credit is due: Pickett possessed fairly good pocket awareness in the first half, scrambling when he needed to and stepping outside to deliver throws on a couple of occasions. But this was not a quarterback who was compared to Trace McSorley (and, if you were to believe message boards, Dan Marino) last week. Kudos to the Penn State secondary shutting down passing lanes and the front seven for finally getting to the quarterback in the second half. 

Miles Sanders: 118 rushing yards

After falling just shy of the century mark in last week's victory over Appalachian State, running back Miles Sanders went to his hometown to post his first career 100-yard rushing game, going for 118 yards on just 16 carries. He missed out on another 50 yards or so due to a phantom block-in-the-back penalty call on a second-quarter run. Sanders had one run in the first half for major negative yards when trying to reverse field to make something happen, but for the second straight week, he mainly focused on a north-to-south style of running through the middle and off-tackle. He failed to find pay dirt, due in part to a picking penalty on Juwan Johnson on what would have been a long touchdown reception by Sanders on the first possession of the second half. As we said last week, Sanders has come in and snatched the mantle that has left vacant by Saquon Barkley.