Five Things We Learned: Penn State vs. Pittsburgh
Coach James Franklin and his No. 13 Nittany Lions made a statement with a 51-6 win over the Pittsburgh Panthers at Heinz Field.
Penn State and Pitt were close in the first, but the Nittany Lions fed off of the Panthers’ mistakes in the second half en route to 37-0 score in the last two quarters. Senior quarterback Trace McSorley led the way with three touchdowns. That being said, here are five things we learned from the win over Pittsburgh:
1. KJ Hamler is the secondary weapon this Penn State offense needs
Over the first two games, one of the big takeaways with this Nittany Lions team is the emergence of redshirt freshman wideout KJ Hamler. Hamler was one of the stars of the preseason and it has shown in these first two games. The wideout from Pontiac, Michigan was making plays all over the place against Pitt. He ended the first drive with a 32-yard touchdown run on a jet sweep. He also added three receptions for 40 yards and a big touchdown right before the half to push the score to 14-6. Hamler almost broke a kickoff return for a big gain with a hurdle over two Pitt defenders. If Hamler can keep this play up as Big Ten play gets closer he can become a big weapon for McSorley.
2. Defense still has some serious growth to do
Brent Pry’s defense started off this game a lot like the end of the Appalachian State game with missed tackles and assignments. Due to the weather, Pitt pretty much took their passing out of the game plan early and pounded the rock down the middle of the Nittany Lions' defense with unlimited success. Senior running back Qadree Ollison was ripping apart Penn State’s defense in the first half and ended the game with 119 yards and one touchdown. Sophomore quarterback Kenny Pickett was also deadly with his legs on scrambles and designed runs. But, Pry and the defense got it together at the half and held the Panthers to zero points and under 50 yards for the rest of the game, including a safety. While the defense isn’t where it needs to be right now, it made some steps this week.
3. Special Teams played a pivotal role in this game
The Panthers’ mistakes on special teams are what really turned this game from being competitive to a blowout. Pitt’s special team’s night consisted of one missed field goal, bobbled extra point and punt, fumbled punt return, and a holding penalty that resulted in a safety. Also included is how Pittsburgh committed 14 penalties for 116 yards compared four for 45 yards for the Nittany Lions. While Penn State dominated the second half, Pitt surely did their part in handing the Nittany Lions the game with their mental mistakes.
4. The freshmen are still going through growing pains
This freshmen class had a lot of hype surrounding them when they made their debut in Happy Valley last week versus Appalachian State. With very notable names like Micah Parsons, Ricky Slade, and Justin Shorter, the belief was that several freshmen would contribute immediately. Some of them made an impact last week, most notably Parsons and Slade, but they had their struggles against Pitt. The most noticeable one was running back Ricky Slade, who had a touchdown last week, but fumbled twice tonight and seemed to anger Coach Franklin on more than one occasion. Parsons, who played a lot more tonight, seemed to take bad angles and miss tackles at several different points during the game. Even though this class will be special, that doesn’t mean they weren’t expected to go through growing pains like they are early this season.
5. Despite what Pat Narduzzi says, this is not a rivalry
Franklin made headlines about this “rivalry” last year when he said beating Pitt was the same to Penn State as beating Akron. He tried to clarify those comments at this week’s press conference, but obviously many people in Pittsburgh didn’t take the comment too nicely. Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi came out this week and said this game means more despite what others say. The Panthers seemed to play inspired and motivated in the first half and played toe-to-toe with the Nittany Lions. However, Pitt’s mistakes led to a dominating second-half performance by Penn State. The win of 45 points made this game the third largest margin of victory by either team in their storied series. The past two games have resulted in Penn State outscoring Pitt by 64 points and the gap doesn’t seem to be getting any closer between these two programs. So sorry coach Narduzzi, this game will always mean much more to Pitt than it does to Penn State.
Camden Tofil is a sophomore majoring in advertising. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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