Pittsburgh at Penn State

Sports Xchange

September 06, 2017 at 5:37 pm.

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
SITE: Beaver Stadium, University Park, Pa.
TV: ABC
SERIES: Penn State leads 50-43-4. Pitt won the last meeting 42-39 in 2016.
RANKINGS: Penn State No. 4

PLAYERS TO WATCH
Panthers

–QB Max Browne got the job done when he needed to in his Pitt debut. His 11-yard touchdown pass to WR Jester Weah in overtime was perfectly placed. He made some other nice throws, as well.

–WR/KR Quadree Henderson — Henderson had a slow day against Youngstown State. He wasn’t a factor in the return game and caught just one pass. He did have nine carries for 77 yards, mostly on jet sweeps.
–FS Bricen Garner was playing in his first career game against Youngstown State, but that didn’t stop him from hauling down a game-winning interception in overtime. Pitt won against Penn State in similar fashion last year, when it was a Ryan Lewis pick that sealed the deal.

–PK Alex Kessman went 0-for-2 on field goal attempts, including one that could have won the game for Pitt against Youngstown State as time expired in regulation. Coach Pat Narduzzi took the blame for not getting the ball onto Kessman’s preferred left hash when he had the time to do so.

Nittany Lions

–RB Saquon Barkley has one game under his belt and it was a Heisman-level performance with 226 rushing yards and two touchdowns. His ability to shake tackles and shed defenders in the open field is nearly unmatched right now. Barkley scored four times against the Panthers last season.

–WR DaeSean Hamilton had a rough start to the season with three drops in the first half against Akron. He recovered to post three catches for 74 yards. Penn State’s most experienced receiver won’t soon forget a costly drop of what would’ve been the go-ahead touchdown late against the Panthers last season.

–DE Torrence Brown won nearly every individual battle against Akron, often overwhelming the Zips’ young left tackle Trevor Brown. He might be Penn State’s most explosive pass-rusher and will be counted on more if fellow end Shareef Miller can’t play on Saturday.

–CB Amani Oruwariye quickly ascended to a top cornerback spot alongside Grant Haley. Oruwariye, who came off the bench, turned in a memorable game with a handful of tackles and an athletic interception deep down the field. He’s flown under the radar in a talented secondary but is beginning to emerge as a ball hawk.

KEYS
TO THE GAME

Pittsburgh’s Darrin Hall has what may be a slightly different view of the Panthers’ first trip to Penn State since 1999.

“I think it’s going to be fun,” the junior running back said.

Hall may want to take heed of the old adage “be careful what you wish for” because the No. 4 Nittany Lions look to be quite a handful for the unranked Panthers on Saturday. The teams kick off at 3:30 p.m. ET at Beaver Stadium in University Park.

“It’s going to be a fun atmosphere,” Hall continued. “I’ve been there before as a recruit. I’m looking forward to it. I’m really excited.”

The two coaches are taking slightly opposite approaches to the second meeting between the two instate teams since the long-time rivalry was halted after the 2000 season. Pitt’s Pat Narduzzi puts added emphasis on the game.

“I think I said that last year, it’s just not another weekend,” Narduzzi said. “It’s a big game, it really is, and I want our guys locked in. It’s an in-state rivalry, at least for us, and we’re going to prepare for it that way.”

But Penn State’s James Franklin looks at it like just another weekend on the schedule. Or so he says.

“I understand the significance of this game,” Franklin said. “And I understand the importance of this game, but I’m also a huge believer that this is the most important game on our schedule because it’s the one this week.

“Last week the Akron game was the most important game in the universe for us. This week, the Pitt game is the most important game in the universe. It’s the only thing that exists for us.”

Pitt will go into the game somewhat hamstrung on defense with standout safety Jerome Whitehead and senior linebacker Quintin Wirginis, a key reserve, both out. Both were serving a three-game suspension before last week’s opener, and it was revealed this week that Wirginis will miss the season due to a non-football injury.

Without them last week, the Panthers gave up 418 yards in a 28-21 victory over Youngstown State. Meanwhile, Penn State was rushing for 247 yards in its 52-0 thrashing of Akron with running back Saquon Barkley going for 174. He rushed for 130 yards in Penn State’s 42-39 loss to Pitt last year.

“You’d better be sound,” Narduzzi said of defending Barkley.”You’d better be in the right gaps. He’ll jump out of a gap. You’ll think he’s going there, he’ll go there. Everybody has got to be gap sound.

“You’ve got to get penetration in the backfield, and you load the box and then they’ve got the other things. They’ve got players outside, too.”

The Nittany Lions have more than just Barkley on offense.

Quarterback Trace McSorley is another Heisman candidate. He spread the ball around last week, passing for 248 yards and rushing for another 48 in the opener.

Barkley didn’t touch the ball on Penn State’s first series but a few designed quarterback draws with McSorley steered the offense into early scoring position. From that point, the quarterback spread the ball around to eight receivers and completed 72 percent of his passes with two touchdowns to tight end Mike Gesicki.

“I think (it was) really just taking what the defense gave us early and not trying to force things early on,” McSorley said.

With Nate Peterman gone, Pitt is breaking in a new starter at quarterback. USC graduate transfer Max Browne completed 17 of 24 passes for 140 yards and a touchdown in overtime for the win. Wide receiver Jester Weah made the leaping grab over a Youngstown State defender in the end zone.

“I’d like to see him make a few more plays,” Narduzzi said of Browne. “He had a great run, and we encouraged him to run. There was another third down where he could have run just to make sure he didn’t make a negative. … There’s a lot of little things, just fundamentals. Again, first time he’s been under fire for over a year really.”