We’re 3 days away from Pitt and Penn State playing for the first time in 16 years. As of today, the oddsmakers have installed Pitt as 4.5 point favorites for Saturday’s matchup. Will Pitt be able to open this 4-game series with a win?
To get an out-of-town perspective on this matchup, I caught up with Ben Jones (@Ben_Jones88), sports editor of StateCollege.com. First thing I asked Jones is the mood in State College and does this week feel different than any other college Saturday?
“I think there’s an interesting dynamic with this game in that there are really two sets of fans here. The ones who were alive and aware of everything when Pitt and Penn State last played and the younger fans who have inherited the rivalry,” said Jones. “You get that sense from players as well, it’s not that they don’t care about the game or don’t appreciate the history, it’s just a different animal when you’ve never experienced it for yourself. But there isn’t any doubt that at the end of the day everyone is looking ahead to this game and have been for a while now.”
While the players might not totally grasp the meaning of this game, the 2 head coaches sure do. The winning coach of this game will no doubt use the outcome as a selling point when battling for recruits.
“Anytime you make your recruiting pitch “Dominate the State” you open yourself up to needing to win those in-state games,” said Jones. “I think this game is important for Franklin not so much because a win would be huge, but that winning means he doesn’t have to deal with the fallout of losing. The recruiting byproduct is somewhat obvious as well, everyone likes winning and winning over your regional recruiting rival is a good way to put your money where your mouth is.”
Both teams strengths on offense are the running games and the winner of that battle could very well end up being the winner of this game.
“I think with a new defensive front still finding itself that James Conner is the kind of player that could give Penn State trouble. If he’s able to have a better game than he did in Week 1 that would go a long way towards winning. ”
“On the opposite side, I think it’s pretty clear that Saquon Barkley can win games on his own, couple that with a talented group of receivers and Penn State’s offense can score points if it can manage the self-inflicted wounds. That hasn’t happened yet, but you get the sense it isn’t far away from finally clicking,” said Jones.
Can Pitt’s defense get to McSorley and make him feel uncomfortable in the pocket? To me, that could very well be the story of the game. Guys like Ejuan Price, Rori Blair, Tyrique Jarrett, Mike Caprara, etc, can they get in the Nittany Lions backfield?
Making his first college start, McSorley was solid for Penn State going 16/31, 209 yards, 2 TD’s and 0 interceptions. However, look for Barkley, who’s coming off a 105 yard performance, to get used a lot this weekend.
“I think Barkley is going to get a heavy workload just about every week but I also think that the offense is structured in such a way that if Pitt is blitzing a lot that guys like Chris Godwin and DaeSean Hamilton will take advantage of that down the field. McSorley has really only played 2 games so far in college counting the majority of Penn State’s bowl loss to Georgia, but for the most part he has been poised and we’ve yet to see him force the issue. Blitzing will be an interesting test for this offense, especially against a suspect offensive line,” said Jones.
Jones Key To Victory For Pitt: “Pitt will win if it can force two turnovers and exploit a defense that is still coming together.”
Jones Key To Victory For Penn State: “Penn State will win if it can keep McSorley safe in the pocket and Barkley goes for 100 yards again.”
Final Outcome: “I think this game ends up being close, probably fewer than 25 points for each team and I think that Penn State isn’t quite good enough to win this game on the road at this point of the season. At the end of the year I think Penn State will be the better team, but right now this game means something to Pitt more than it does Penn State and I think that coupled with some inexperience will be enough for Pitt to win it close.”