Nittany Lions take care of business, Claw Pitt for a 33-14 win
By BILL ALBRIGHT
UNIVERSITY PARK — After a frustrating defeat at the hands of Pitt last season, Penn State wasn’t about to let history repeat itself.
Taking control from the outset, the Nittany Lions took care of business to get the job done as they clawed the Panthers for a 33-14 win in front of 108,898 fans at Sun-drenched Beaver Stadium Saturday afternoon.
The crowd of 108,898 was the seventh largest in Beaver Stadium history, the largest since Penn State faced Ohio State in 2009 in front of 110,033.
“Overall, I thought we played a very complete game,” said PSU head coach James Franklin. “ Our offense is very explosive and that’s kind of how we were today. We had explosive plays. I’d like to see us sustain some more drives, but overall we showed that we could score at any moment.”
The Lions broke out early following an interception by Grant Haley when quarterback Trace McSorley hit Mike Gesicki with an 8-yard scoring pass and the Lions never looked back.
“I thought the early interception was huge,” said Franklin. “ It kind of set the tone right from the beginning of the game but overall it was just really gutsy the way our defense played. The shovel play (by Pitt) gave us a few issues. That is a challenging play to defend, but I think that (Pitt) is a good football team and I think they’re going to win a lot of games this year.”
After several exchanges of possession, the Lions took over on their own 38. Six plays later, it was again the McSorley to Gesicki connection that paid dividends for the Lions as McSorley found his favorite receiver in the left corner of the end zone with a 10-yard scoring pass. The big play in the drive was a 36-yard scamper by McSorley.
Gesicki surpassed 1,000 career receiving yards with his 39 on the day to become the 25th Nittany Lion to accomplish the feat.
In the second quarter, the defensive units continued to dictate tempo of the game with eight changes of possession and no scoring until the Panthers took over on their own 23. Driving to a first-an-goal on the PSU 10, they had to settle for a 28-yard field goal by Alex Kessman to make the halftime score PSU 14, Pitt 3.
“Defensively, I thought our defense did a great job of holding them to field goals,“ said Franklin. “Early on, we had some drives and we’d obviously like to create a few more three-and-outs.”
Statistics sometimes simply don’t tell the story. During the first half, Pitt had control of the football for 21:51 to just 8:09 for the Lions, only to show the Panthers on the short end of a 14-3 score.
“Obviously, the story of the first half was time of possession, but when I study time of possession I study three-and-outs,“ said Franklin. “How many three-and-outs did our offense have? How many three-and-outs did our defense create? What did we have in terms of long drives? That was our issue and getting a little bit more off the field on defense.”
After an exchange of possessions, it only took the Lions one play to find the end zone, McSorley and Sauqon Barkley hooking up for a 46-yard pitch-and-catch for the touchdown. The play only took nine seconds to complete.
Obviously aroused by the PSU score, the Panthers answered right back, but again with only with three points as the Lion defense held the Panthers to a 26-yard field goal by Kessman.
The Lions later capped a 78-yard drive when Barkley carried three Pitt defenders for the final six yards into the end zone to complete the 8-yard rushing touchdown.
The Panthers came back to score a touchdown when backup quarterback Ben DiNucci went in from three yards out. Qadree Ollison made it a two-score game (28-14) with a rush for the two-point conversion.
With the game well in hand, PSU increased its lead when Marcus Allen tackled DiNucci in the end zone for a safety with 5:53 remaining in the game before Lion placekicker Tyler Davis drilled a 24-yard field goal to set the final. Barkley amassed 183 all-purpose yards, rushing 14 times for 88 yards and a touchdown, catching four passes for 45 yards and a touchdown, and returning two kicks for 50 yards. McSorley completed 15-of-28 passes for 164 yards and three touchdowns, with his lone interception coming on an end-of-half Hail Mary play. Gesicki matched Barkley’s four receptions and totaled 39 yards and two touchdowns.
Defensively, linebackers Jason Cabinda and Koa Farmer followed Allen in the tackles ledger with eight apiece, Defensive backs Haley and Troy Apke – whom both had parents attend Pitt – hauled in an interception each and defensive end Shareef Miller had two of Penn State’s five sacks.
Now 2-0, the Lions will remain home for one more game when they host George State Saturday in a 7:30 kickoff.
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