No. 4 Penn State avenges 2016 loss to Pitt
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Marcus Allen thought a lot about his late grandmother in the hours leading up to No. 4 Penn State’s showdown with Pittsburgh on Saturday.
She passed away last year before getting the chance to watch the Penn State safety play in the program’s most storied rivalry game. Allen made sure to turn in a performance she’d be proud of in the rematch.
Allen and Penn State’s defense stymied the Panthers all day while the Nittany Lions’ offense got on track in a 33-14 win at Beaver Stadium on Saturday.
“Guys had grudges, a chip on their shoulder coming into this game, like myself,” Allen said. “I definitely did, due to my grandmother not being able to see this game last year. I took that to heart. Everybody just made sure they played to their best abilities today.”
Saquon Barkley racked up 183 all-purpose yards and scored two touchdowns on 20 total touches, and Trace McSorley completed 15 of 28 passes for 164 yards, three touchdowns and an interception for the Nittany Lions (2-0).
Allen finished with 12 tackles and Penn State’s defense allowed Pitt to cross midfield just five times on 13 possessions.
“I thought we played a very complete game,” Penn State coach James Franklin said. “Our offense is very explosive and that’s kind of how we were again today.”
Tight end Mike Gesicki caught two touchdown passes for the Nittany Lions, who won for the first time over their rivals since 1999. The Panthers (1-1) held on in a shootout last season when the series was renewed after a 16-year dormancy.
This game didn’t have the flair or as many fireworks like the previous one, however.
Penn State’s offense, which started and stayed hot in Week 1, was inconsistent in the first half Saturday. Pitt’s was nonexistent. The Nittany Lions scored twice, but ran just 17 plays on four other first-half possessions and punted three times. McSorley had a Hail Mary try at the end of the first half intercepted.
McSorley said he was “jittery” to start the game. He threw a late, game-sealing interception in the last meeting that hung in his mind before kickoff.
“I think with how last year ended, I think that was kind of playing a lot into it,” McSorley said.
The game started much easier for him.
Thanks to a Grant Haley interception and return that spoiled Pitt’s opening series, Penn State ran its first play inside Pitt’s 10-yard-line where McSorley threw an easy 8-yard touchdown pass to Gesicki.
McSorley hit Gesicki on a 10-yard fade route to give Penn State a 14-0 lead later in the quarter.
“I would like to see us sustain some more drives but we showed we can score at any moment,” Franklin said.
Pitt’s defense kept Penn State out of the end zone until Barkley, a Heisman Trophy candidate, came through with the type of play that will help make his case.
Sprinting past Pitt linebackers at midfield, Barkley hauled in a pass over the middle and outraced defenders for a 46-yard touchdown for a 21-3 lead in the early in the third.
He lowered his shoulder and ran through the Panthers for an 8-yard score to begin the fourth.
Allen added a safety for Penn State, and Tyler Davis kicked a 24-yard field goal.
“I think emotions were high,” McSorley said.
“But it felt like we almost kind of let it all out too early and it kind of fizzled out a little bit in the first half. So when we got back into the locker room at halftime, we put 14 points on the board, that’s not a terrible half for us but we felt like we weren’t playing our best football.”
Backup quarterback Ben DiNucci ran for a touchdown and Alex Kessman kicked two field goals for the Panthers.
Starter Max Browne completed 19 of 32 passes for 138 yards with two interceptions. He was under pressure most of the afternoon, sacked five times.
“You’re not going to beat a Top 10 team in the country turning the ball over,” Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said. “You’re put in a position where you’re going to throw it every down, that’s not us.”
NOTES: Penn State DE Shareef Miller missed all but a couple of plays last week with an ankle injury. He returned to start Saturday, recording two sacks. ... Pitt RB Qadree Ollison and TE Matt Flanagan were shaken up with apparent lower leg injuries in the first half. Both returned to the game. ... Penn State RB Sequon Barkle posted his 10th career game out of 27 with multiple touchdowns. ... Penn State CB Amani Oruwariye left the game with a leg injury late in the fourth and did not return. ... Penn State recognized its 1982 National Championship team at halftime and unveiled 2016 numbering along the suites of the stadium to honor its Big Ten championship from last season.