Unlocking the Gates: Penn State Followed Their Keys to Victory Perfectly

By Nick Polak on September 10, 2018 at 9:00 am
Sep 8, 2018; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions running back Miles Sanders (24) runs the ball against Pittsburgh Panthers linebacker Elijah Zeise (25) during the second quarter at Heinz Field.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
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In the lead-up to Penn State's 51-6 drubbing of Pitt, we laid out the three keys to victory for the Nittany Lions. As you might imagine, they did a pretty good job of following through with what they needed to do. Let's take a look at what the Lions accomplished on Saturday night in Pittsburgh.

Key #1: Run. The. Football.

Check! Penn State totaled 211 yards on the ground in this one, with Miles Sanders's 118 leading the way. Trace McSorley followed with 36, KJ Hamler had 32 on his touchdown run, Ricky Slade had 13, and Mark Allen had 12 and one score of his own. As a team, the Lions averaged 6.4 yards per carry on the evening.

Before the game, we highlighted Pitt's aggressive secondary as the prime reason that Penn State needed to avoid third-and-long situations, and while the quarterbacks were still able to throw the ball with good efficiency (drops hurt the overall numbers), the run game was still the backbone of the offensive effort.

Key #2: Contain Pickett on the Ground

Check! Pickett ran for 30 yards on 14 carries. That was good for just 2.14 yards per carry. He did have a few key drive-moving runs. especially early on, but his legs didn't have much of an impact on the final score of the game. Pickett's ability to run with the ball is one of his greatest strengths as a quarterback, and the Penn State defense was able to do their job and keep him in the pocket, where he was extremely ineffective as a passer.

While Brent Pry's unit was much less capable when it came to stopping the Pitt running backs in the first half, keeping Pickett from turning dead plays into big gains was always going to be key in this one. And they did just that.

Key #3: Don't Lose Focus

Check! In Penn State's near-loss to Appalachian State in week one, the team seemed to kick into cruise control once they went up by two scores. Not this week. When the Lions got up on the Panthers, they didn't stop pushing and didn't stop looking for the end zone. This team was focused from start to finish in a mental sense. That includes the coaching staff who let Sean Clifford come in and let it fly with the game already in-hand, and challenging a Ricky Slade fumble with under a minute to go.

The other aspect of this point was in reference to the defense's shoddy tackling against Jalin Moore, Zac Thomas, and company in week one. While the defense certainly had trouble bringing down Qadree Ollison and the other Pitt backs in the first half, they clamped down big time in the second half, showing that they are more than capable of wrapping up and not letting go.

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