When and where: September 14, 2019, Beaver Stadium, University Park, PA, 12:00 PM ET
The Pittsburgh Panthers won’t have to wait long for the ugly part of their schedule when traveling to University Park for a head-to-head meeting with the Penn State Nittany Lions. Both teams last met in the ongoing Pennsylvania rivalry back in Week 2 in 2018, when Penn State stomped all over Pittsburgh on the road in a 51-6 victory.
Now, the Panthers will have the gargantuan task on their hands of traveling to Beaver Stadium and winning on the road.
After getting blown out by Virginia, Pittsburgh earned a bounce-back win over Ohio over the weekend, while Penn State opened their season up with a pair of decisively lopsided victories over Idaho and Buffalo. The Nittany Lions will aim to continue their run of dominance over the less talented Panthers ahead of an upcoming primetime showdown with No. 21 Maryland.
This game might be the last between these two state rivals for awhile. This is the 100th meeting but there are no scheduled games in the future. Maybe it’s because Penn State has become a powerhouse and Pitt is just another team in the ACC.
“I could see us possibly maybe doing a neutral-site game with them,” Penn State head coach James Franklin said. “That’s a possibility. We can have discussions, but we’ve gotta be creative about it. Again, the challenge is with us having nine conference games and them having eight. There’s some problems with the home-and-home, but we’re open. We’re open to having discussions, but it’s gotta equally make sense for both parties.”
“Nobody cares what I think, but everybody in the state of Pennsylvania would say ‘hey, why don’t we play this game,’” Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi said. “We all want to play in this game. It’s a big game — it’s a rivalry game in-state. I’m going to emphasize to our kids you might be the last team to ever play in this game. The next time we play, I’ll either be in a coffin or retired.”
“… But there’s no doubt about it. I get it. And I understand the significance of it. A lot of it is just bragging rights, people going back to work on Monday. Like I mentioned, going back to Pittsburgh. Going back to see family and friends. It’s all those types of things it just hits a little bit closer to home.”
Defense is key for the Panthers
Offense and the shaky arm of junior quarterback Kenny Pickett won’t save Pittsburgh on the road against their fearsome rival. That sort of reliance is more likely to actually cost them the game on Saturday. Pickett has thrown for 506 passing yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions over the course of two games.
The latter stat might be the most worrisome for the Panthers heading into an environment where they can’t afford turnovers.
The offensive struggles cost the team at home in the season opener against Virginia, and it could have cost them on the road in Week 2 in the second half of their game against Ohio.
Their best chance for victory moving forward is on the defensive side of the ball, where they’re tied for fourth in the nation in sack total (9). Any hope of getting past Penn State will fall on the defense’s ability to dial up pressure and make quarterback Sean Clifford uncomfortable in the pocket. There should be plenty of opportunities to make him tap-dance with the Nittany Lions leaning so heavily on the passing game.
Clifford’s time to shine
The Nittany Lions have shown they aren’t afraid to put the game in Clifford’s hands. It has been impressive to see the sophomore quarterback drop back to pass so many times and pick apart opposing defenses. Granted, the Nittany Lions haven’t faced a serious defensive challenge to actually distress Clifford in the pocket.
That could obviously change with the Panthers coming to the town. Their ability to generate pressure up front will serve as an interesting Week 3 test for the Nittany Lions. Can the offensive front stand its ground and protect the young quarterback? Can Clifford stand strong in the pocket and still deliver accurate throws down the field when he’s under pressure?
Pittsburgh has been stout up front against the run, and it could put Penn State in a situation where they’ll have to solely depend on Clifford’s arm to win on Saturday.
One thing the Nittany Lions do need to pick up is their third-down conversion rate. Last season, they ranked No. 86 in the nation with a third-down conversion rate of 37.1%. This season against Idaho and Buffalo, they rank No. 127 with a conversion rate of 17.6%.
- Panthers are 4-12-1 ATS in their last 17 non-conference games.
- Panthers are 2-6 ATS in their last 8 games after allowing less than 20 points in their previous game.
- Panthers are 1-5 ATS in their last 6 games after allowing less than 275 total yards in their previous game.
- Panthers are 0-3-1 ATS in their last 4 vs. Big Ten.
- Nittany Lions are 26-10-2 ATS in their last 38 games overall.
- Nittany Lions are 18-7-1 ATS in their last 26 games after allowing less than 20 points in their previous game.
- Nittany Lions are 35-17-2 ATS in their last 54 home games.
- Nittany Lions are 37-18-2 ATS in their last 57 games following a straight up win.