Penn State Nittany Lions vs. Pittsburgh Panthers
The Records: Penn State (1-0, 0-0 Big Ten); Pitt (1-0, 0-0 ACC).
The Coaches: Penn State: James Franklin, third season, 39-27 overall, 15-12 at Penn State; Pitt: Pat Narduzzi, second season, 9-5 overall, 9-5 at Pitt.
The Game: For the first time in 16 years, Penn State and Pitt will battle on the gridiron. The last time these in-state rivals played, Rod Rutherford quarterbacked the Panthers to a 12-0 victory at Three Rivers Stadium.
This game serves as the first true test for both sides. The Nittany Lions got their season started with a 33-13 victory over Kent State, while Pitt defeated Villanova, 28-7.
Penn State head coach James Franklin and Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi are both looking for their first signature win with their respective programs, and a win Saturday would snare that win for one of the coaches.
Each coach took a different route to get to Saturday’s rivalry game. Narduzzi put a media ban on his players and coaches throughout the week and was the only voice heard from Sunday on. Franklin kept it business as usual, allowing his players to speak to the media and gave the OK for members of the media to attend open portions of practice.
On the field, the Nittany Lions’ offense will be challenged in the trenches with a Pitt defensive line loaded with experience. Trace McSorley gets his second start under center for Penn State after throwing for 209 yards and two touchdowns against Kent State — he found six different receivers against the Golden Flashes. Saturday, McSorley and his squadron of receivers will be going against a secondary led by ACC Rookie of the Year Jordan Whitehead.
Penn State running back Saquon Barkley quietly ran for over 100 yards last weekend, and he’ll look to do that again this weekend. Anything can happen with Barkley, who many consider to be one of the best backs in the country, when he gets to the second level where the linebackers roam. Saturday, Barkley will be met at that second level by redshirt senior Mike Caprara, among others.
Defensively, the Nittany Lions will be tasked with limiting the damage former All American James Conner can do on the ground. Connor, who is coming off knee surgery and defeated non-Hodgkins lymphoma, is looking to get back to his 2014 level, when he had 26 rushing touchdowns. An experienced Penn State secondary will hope to limit the damage quarterback Nate Peterman can do in the air.
Special teams could wind up being the deciding factor in this rivalry game, and the elements of Heinz Field only add to the drama. Tyler Davis handles field goal kicking duties for the Nittany Lions and was perfect last week against Kent State. Chris Blewitt handles those same duties for the Panthers and was unable to make a field goal Saturday — he missed two chances, one of which was blocked — however, he was able to make all four extra point attempts.
Being that these teams will both be hyped up for the matchup, it’s nearly impossible to predict how the game will go. No matter what, it’ll be a gritty and powerful game between the lines for the 97th installment of this rivalry game.
Time: 12 p.m. EDT
Location: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, Pa.
TV/Radio: ESPN/Penn State Radio Network
Prugar’s Prediction: Penn State, 24-17.
Image credit: Rich Barnes/USA TODAY Sports