Game Preview: No. 13 Penn State Nittany Lions vs. Pitt Panthers

By Matthew Filipovits on September 13, 2019 at 10:00 am
Sep 7, 2019; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers quarterback Kenny Pickett (8) passes against the Ohio Bobcats during the first quarter at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh won 20-10. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
© Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
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The Nittany Lions righted the ship in the second half against Buffalo and now welcome in the Pitt Panthers for the 100th meeting between Pennsylvania's marquee programs.

  Penn State Pitt
2019 Record 2-0 (0-0 in Big Ten) 1-1 (0-1 in ACC)
Head Coaches James Franklin (71-36, 47-21 with Penn State) Pat Narduzzi (29-25, 29-25 with Pitt)
Kickoff Noon ET
Television ABC
Stream WatchESPN
spread Penn State -17

reviving the run game

After Penn State's running backs torched Idaho for over 300 yards and seven total touchdowns in week one, they took a pretty noticeable step backward against Buffalo. Sean Clifford actually ended up leading the way with 11 carries for 51 yards, something that should never happen with a running back room as deep and talented as this one.

Ricky Slade went to the bench early in the second half, after just three carries and a pretty bad fumble. Both Noah Cain and Devyn Ford had just one carry each, although Cain's was for a score. This could mean the backfield belongs to Journey Brown at the moment. This Pitt defense is the top unit the Nittany Lions have faced to date, so a strong game from Brown could help him keep that lead back spot.

Control the football

Buffalo came in with a plan to control the clock and keep Sean Clifford and Co. off the field as much as possible. And for the most part, it worked. Because of that, Penn State's offense was forced to revert to explosive plays to get the job done. While this is a fun brand of football to watch, it's not the most efficient and probably won't work as the schedule starts to ramp up.

On the other side of that coin, Penn State's defense was on the field a lot last week; 91 plays to be exact. That's great for building experience, but that's how injuries and mental mistakes happen. For this defense to operate at its full potential, they cannot be on the field, wearing themselves down as much they were last week. To keep things running smoothly, the offense needs to be able to maintain long drives, the defense needs to create turnovers or both.

Stopping Pitt's rushing attack

Buffalo ran the ball 58 times last week, with their top two rushers both averaging under four yards/carry. It was the most "three yards and a cloud of dust" brand football you will ever see. But, it worked against this young Penn State front, especially up the middle, to the tune of 184 yards.

Now, this Panther offense has shifted away from the run-first style they mastered in years past. Still, new offensive coordinator Mark Whipple has the horses to do some damage in the running game, namely A.J. Davis. With a maligned offensive line, the Panthers probably won't want to throw too much to keep Pickett upright against the Penn State pass rush. That means Davis will be the star of the show. The guys up the middle need to be on their game to stave off an upset.

laugh like a manic for the rest of the weekend if...

  • The offensive line gives Clifford time to work. The sophomore was terrific a week ago despite an underwhelming performance from his line. If Matt Limegrover's guys can keep Clifford upright, we could see fireworks all afternoon.
  • The running back room rights the ship. There's too much talent here to not have at least one guy go over 75 yards every game. Slade needs to hang on to the ball if he doesn't want to see his carries fade away. This unit needs to come out ready to prove some people wrong on Saturday.
  • The Penn State defense proves that those big plays they gave up last week were just growing pains. Pitt's offense isn't exactly built on explosiveness, so limiting big plays could quickly make the Panthers one-dimensional. 

yell at every potato chip that remotely resembles pat narduzzi if...

  • The running back room continues to struggle. Clifford can get it done by himself against lower-level competition, but he'll need some help from here on out.
  • The defense again looks soft defending the run. Penn State's schedule is littered with teams that can run the football effectively. If things still look bad in this one, it could be a long season for the guys in the middle.
  • The offensive line lets the Pitt pass rush run free. There really aren't any more excuses for this unit. They need to get the job done and keep Clifford safe and give the backs some room to run. If they don't, this Penn State offense could have to resort to big plays keep them afloat once again.

prediction in gif form

After four years, this historic series comes to a close for what seems likely to be a long time. The Panthers are going to come out amped up for this one, especially after the 51-6 drubbing they took last year. Still, the Nittany Lions prove they have too much talent to fall at home.

Ricky Rahne is going to establish the run game early to start the game. Looking for redemption after last week, Ricky Slade will find the endzone on the opening drive on a long run. With the running game now commanding some attention, the passing lanes will open for Sean Clifford and we'll see Justin Shorter get in on the touchdown party. The Penn State defense will force a pair of turnovers and the Nittany Lions will go into the half up 17-7.

Pitt will show some life to start the second half but a Pickett interception will stall their opening drive and Penn State won't look back. Both Ricky Slade and Journey Brown will go over 100 yards, Sean Clifford will keep rolling, the defense will show why it's one of the best in the nation, and the Nittany Lions will get the win 41-13.

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