Friday, September 7, 2018
Kickoff: 8 p.m. at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh
Line: Penn State by 91/2.
Series record: Penn State leads 51-43-4.
What’s at stake: The Nittany Lions dipped in the polls after a narrow overtime escape against Appalachian State in the opener. Pitt offers an opportunity to bounce back. Why is that important besides the obvious? A loss to the Panthers two years ago eventually kept Penn State from making the College Football Playoff. Pitt believes it has the tools to take a step forward in head coach Pat Narduzzi’s fourth year.
Key matchups: Pitt’s secondary vs. Penn State QB Trace McSorely: The Panthers were missing three contributors in the secondary in their opener against Albany and there’s no guarantee Dane Jackson, Jason Pinnock or Phil Campbell will be available to face the Nittany Lions. That leaves a group long on potential but short on experience to keep McSorely, a Heisman Trophy candidate, in check.
Players to watch: Penn State: OLB Micah Parsons. The high-profile freshman had four tackles and recovered an onside kick in his college debut. On a defense trying to replace eight starters, Parsons needs to develop quickly to help put heat on Pitt sophomore Kenny Pickett.
Pitt: RBs Darrin Hall and Qadree Ollison. The best way to keep McSorely in check is to keep him off the field. A productive day from the two senior running backs would help the Panthers do just that. Both should come in fresh after being used sparingly (11 combined carries) in the opener against Albany.
Facts & figures: The teams have split the two meetings since the series renewed in 2016, both winning on home turf. ... Pitt has won two straight over Penn State in Pittsburgh. The Panthers haven’t won three consecutive home games against the Nittany Lions since 1944-46. ... McSorley has thrown a touchdown in 29 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the Football Bowl Subdivision. ... Penn State RB Miles Sanders set career highs in yards rushing (91), attempts (19) and rushing touchdowns (two) against Appalachian State. ... This is the final game in Pittsburgh between the longtime rivals for the foreseeable future. There are no games scheduled past next year’s meeting at Beaver Stadium.