Penn State (1-0) vs. Pittsburgh (1-0)
Penn State lost all their away games including their bowl game (vs. Georgia) (0-5) in 2015 by an average margin of defeat of 18.6 points per game. Pittsburgh lost three of their last four games in 2015 to Miami, Notre Dame and North Carolina. Intra-state game that involves major recruiting within the state of Pennsylvania.
Penn State struggled offensively with a physical defense in Kent State last week at home. The Nittany Lions rushed for 145 yards on the ground and passed for 209 yards through the air last week in picking up the 33-13 victory over the Golden Flashes.
Quarterback Trace McSorely completed 16 of 31 passes (51%) for 209 yards with 2 touchdowns and no interceptions. McSorley struggled in the pocket locating open receivers and did not look comfortable at times under pressure against an above average defensive front seven in Kent State.
Running back Saquon Barkley led the team with 105 yards on the ground and one score. However, the offensive line did not open up big holes which forced the offense into becoming one dimensional in the game. The offense converted 5 of 14 third down conversions and put pressure on the offensive line to protect McSorley in passing situations. Over the last two seasons, the offensive line has struggled with pass protection allowing 39 sacks in 2015 and 44 sacks in 2014. Last Saturday, the unit allowed only one sack and will need to duplicate that effort on Saturday afternoon against the Panthers.
Wide receiver Chris Godwin was the main target for McSorley catching 7 passes for 67 yards. The offense will need Godwin and wide receiver Daeshean Hamilton (2 receptions for 9 yards 1 TD) to test the Panthers secondary deep to open up running lanes for Barkley and allow McSorley to gain confidence early on in this game.
Defensively, the Penn State defensive front seven stepped up and recorded 7 sacks in Saturday’s win. The defense was very solid in pass coverage giving up 150 passing yards and forced short to intermediate passes underneath coverage. The Nittany Lions allowed 129 rushing yards and will face a blue collar offensive line in Pittsburgh along with a tough inside runner in running back James Connor. The defense cannot allow Connor to beat them early which could open up the play action passing game for quarterback Nate Peterman.
The unit forced Kent State to 29% third down conversions in the win and must force third and long situations on the road. The defense won the turnover battle as well by a margin of 3-1 and must force turnovers on the road to get the victory.
The Panthers are coming off of a 28-7 win against Villanova and look inconsistent on offense. The team rushed for 86 yards last week and passed for 175 yards in the victory. Quarterback Nate Peterman completed 59% of his passes (19 of 32) with 2 touchdowns and no interceptions.
Running back James Connor came back from his battle with cancer to rush for 53 yards on the ground and scored his first touchdown since being diagnosed last year. Connor along with running back Qadre Ollison will be the key to victory on Saturday in Heinz Field if they can run the football between the tackles and take the pressure off of Peterman to make plays in the passing game. Head coach Pat Narduzzi wants to run the football and work off of play action, however, if the team does not have success on first and second down running the football it could force Peterman into trying to beat the Nittany Lions by himself. That is not the style of Pittsburgh’s offense.
Wide receivers Jester Weah and Qadree Henderson combined for 8 receptions for 73 yards with one touchdown. Tight end Scoot Orndoff could be the key to Satruday’s game. Orndoff caught 5 passes for 68 yards and if he is able to find holes underneath coverage in the short to intermediate passing game, that could open up running lanes for Connor later in the game.
Defensively, the Panthers want to take away Saquon Barkley and force McSorley to beat them over the top on Saturday. The unit allowed 119 passing yards and held Villanova to 53 rushing yards on the afternoon. The defense recorded 6 sacks and will look to blitz early on in the game to force turnovers and force McSorley into quick throws.
The Panthers forced 2 turnovers last week and won the turnover battle 2-1 over Villanova. The defense forced Villanova into converting 6 of 15 on third downs last week.