Pitt Panthers at Penn State Nittany Lions Preview

Kenny Pickett

Welcome to the most comprehensive Pitt Panthers Game Day Preview on the internet! This is your one-stop shop for everything you need to know about Pitt and their upcoming opponent! Mike Drakulich of Pittsburgh SportsNation brings you inside the huddle for both teams, providing all fans with a Game Story, Pitt’s Keys to Victory, Score Prediction, Game Information, a detailed breakdown of each team, Individual Stats, and Team Stats. Heck, you’ll even know the weather at kickoff! The only thing you’re missing is a game uniform!



When the Pitt Panthers and #13 Penn State Nittany Lions take the field this Saturday at Beaver Stadium, it could be the last time these bitter rivals meet, thanks to absolute stupidity, and utter arrogance by the Penn State administration, namely PSU AD Sandy Barbour.

Don’t kid yourself when you think only Pitt needs Penn State and not vice versa. PSU fans are obsessed with attendance figures, something they beat their chests over daily when they run their mouths about Pitt. Not to make excuses, but Pitt is a city school, and not many city schools thrive when it comes to putting butts in seats. We are comparing a city school to a state school. So enjoy being the “Turnstile Champions” when it comes to how many people fill your stadium PSU fans, but don’t deprive yourself of what is a great rivalry between the two schools, this week being the 100th meeting of all time. This is a game that should be played yearly, and that includes playing West Virginia for both programs. If Miami, Florida, and Florida State can all play each other yearly, these three schools have zero excuses.

Oh, and if Pitt isn’t that important to Penn State fans, tell me why in 2017 the game played between the two drew the 7th largest crowd in the history of Beaver Stadium?

How many games did Idaho or Delaware garner a top ten figure in attendance?

When the clock strikes high Noon, the ball will be sailing through the air towards one team, and we will have a game to play.

Pitt enters the game 1-1, losing to Virginia after a flat second half in the season opener, and a 20-10 defeat of Ohio, in which the Panther offense showed signs of life under new offensive coordinator Mark Whipple, especially in the passing game under quarterback Kenny Pickett, who amassed a career high 321 passing yards vs Ohio.

Penn State is 2-0 after annihilating Idaho 79-0, and then coming back from a halftime deficit to bury Buffalo last week 45-13.

One player who is looking forward to the game is Pitt center Jimmy Morrissey.

“I can’t wait,” said Morrissey. “I’ve said it before. I’m from the eastern side of the state, Philly area. I know a lot of people who go there. Some of my closest friends go to Penn State.

“I don’t like them one bit. That’s pretty obvious. I mean, I play for Pitt. I’m excited to play them.”

Morrissey was also amped on how the offensive line improved from week one to week two. Plenty of people were on the attack for Pickett’s head after an abysmal effort in the season opening loss to Virginia.

“It was our fault,” Morrissey said of his fellow lineman. “It wasn’t coach Borb’s fault (Dave Borbley, Pitt line coach). It wasn’t Whipple’s fault. It wasn’t Kenny’s fault. It was ours. We didn’t pick up certain games and twists and blitzes by Virginia.

“We gave up 14 pressures as an offensive line. When you get hit 14 times, I don’t blame him for wanting to scramble. He’s getting hit that many times, what quarterback in the country can you ask to be confident in their O-line after that performance?

“It was more on us. We should have gotten more heat than he did.”

Adjusting to a new offense takes time for everybody, including the line which needs to get the correct calls in place to be successful in run or pass blocking.

“It’s a new offense, first game of the year,” Morrissey said. “We hadn’t seen their film from this year. We knew they were going to throw some new stuff at us that we didn’t prepare for and we just didn’t adjust well enough to it last week.

“This week, we were a lot more prepared (for Ohio). We all talked about it. It was good that everybody recognized the problem.”

Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi also offered praise for his starting QB.

“Did he bounce back (against Ohio) or did everybody make some catches for him?”, said Narduzzi. “No. 8 is a dang good football player. Dang good football player.”

Pickett will definitely have to have his best game ready this Saturday for Pitt to have a chance against a tough Nittany Lion’s defense. The whole team will need to dig deep and come out guns a blazing, to pull off the upset that odds-makers have Penn State favored by 17 1/2 points.

Narduzzi likes what he sees from his team so far this week in practice.

“I’m kind of excited,” he said. “We’ve had three really, really good days (of practice), probably the three best days we had this year so far. That shows you the kids are growing up a little bit.”

Pitt will be looking to establish it’s running game to control the clock and keep Penn State’s offense off the field. A.J. Davis has been the starter, but Todd Sibley, V’Lique Carter, and freshman Vincent Davis have all seen time toting the rock for the Panthers. None of taken the bull by the horns as of yet.

“You’re going to start to see the two Davis guys go first,” Narduzzi said of Pitt’s planned rotation. “But we’re going to find out who’s making plays.

“If Sibley comes in and starts to run it like crazy, we’ll go with him. V’Lique? Who knows? We’re going to play the hot hand. Sometimes, one guy has his mind a little bit cleaner than the other guy.”

Vincent Davis gained 50 yards on 12 carries vs Ohio, good for 4.1 yards per rush. He is one of the fastest players on the team.

Another group that can make their mark is the tight ends, something PSU had problems in covering last week vs Buffalo. So far in two games, Pitt’s tight ends have combined for ten receptions, which ties the mark caught by three combined tight ends last year through fourteen games.

Narduzzi is expecting even more from this group, which includes Will Gragg, Nakia Griffin-Stewart, and Grant Carrigan.

“You caught the ball. You fell down,” Narduzzi said. “How about people bouncing off a tight end? That’s what it’s supposed to be when you watch those great tight ends. So, if you want to be a great one, you have to make something happen with your feet. All of a sudden, they start to get some YAC (yards after catch).

“It starts with Whipple. But when your opportunities come up, you have to make plays. They dropped a couple, but they made catches last week. That was a nice surprise.”

The Pitt defense will be looking to slow down PSU running back Ricky Slade and QB Sean Clifford, who will face much tougher competition than what Idaho or Buffalo was able to offer.

“The Slade kid is a good football player,” Narduzzi said. “We’ll find out how he plays in a big game just like we’ll find out how Vince (Davis) plays.

“Same thing with Sean Clifford. We’ll find out.”

Penn State head coach James Franklin is impressed with what he sees from Narduzzi’s defense.

“He’s been doing it for a long time,” Franklin said of Narduzzi. “They have been doing it at a high level. For a while, there was a period of time in college football, probably four to six years, where everybody was trying to copycat their style of defense — what he’s done at Pitt and what they did at Michigan State. But obviously, he has done a tremendous job.

“So it’s a challenge. It’s an in-your-face style of defense. The linebackers are downhill, as soon as they get their reads, which makes it difficult (for offensive linemen) to stay on double teams. Your offensive linemen have to come off and climb on the linebacker quickly.

“That’s part of their design. That’s what they want you to do. It’s a good scheme. There’s no doubt about it.

“That team has taken on his personality. They are physical. They are tough. They are hard-nosed.”

Pitt enters the game ranked 23rd in rush defense, allowing just 82 yards per game.

“We did a better job of stopping the run at times,” Narduzzi said of the Ohio game. “My coaches told me we are (tied for 23rd) in the country in rush defense. I said, ‘You guys still stink. We should have been 15th.’ ”

Stopping Clifford, who has excellent speed if he decides to take off out of the pocket, is one of the biggest priorities Pitt will have.

“He’s a good football player,” Narduzzi said of Clifford. “We can’t let him get comfortable in the pocket.”

And if he runs?

“We invite them to run as many powers as they can,” the Panther coach said. “We’d like to be able to give him some of those (as in hits, something that Clifford took plenty of last week vs Buffalo).”


Pitt Keys to Victory

  1. Establish Ground Game: If the rushing attack gets going, Pitt should be able to find some space to throw the ball downfield.
  2. Attack the Middle of the Field: Pitt needs to attack the middle with their play-makers, as well as with the tight ends.
  3. No Backbreaking Turnovers: In that environment, turnovers are a game changer. Secure the ball at all costs.
  4. Keep Sean Clifford Contained: This kid can fly if he gets out of the pocket. Pitt needs to light him up every time he carries the ball.
  5. Take K.J. Hamler Down: Smother Hamler and force Penn State to beat you another way.



Through two games this season, and even counting back to last year, the Pitt defense, though much improved, have yet to record a turnover in the last 17 quarters played, which spans 263 snaps.

If Pitt is going to shock the world this Saturday, that is one glaring statistic that needs to change in a hurry.

The players were certainly not expecting to be turnover-free so far this season. They even had a special something planned for when they did record a turnover.

“We’re putting together a way to give the defense more juice,” defensive tackle Amir Watts said. “I don’t want to say. But for turnovers, forced fumbles, interceptions, any of that third down, money down (splash plays), we got a little surprise for the fans.”

So far, the world remains in the dark.

To quote Judge Smails in Caddyshack… “Well????? We’re waiting…!”

Pitt came very close against Ohio last week, as a deflected pass was there for the taking, which would have resulted in a touchdown, but linebacker Cam Bright and cornerback Dane Jackson bumped into each other going for the ball, which fell harmlessly to the Heinz Field grass.

“We had an opportunity to get some turnovers, which was disappointing,” Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi said. “Don’t like that. We got a chance for a pick-6 that we don’t get.”

Pitt’s offense was good, but not great against Ohio. There was plenty of missed opportunities, but the offense, as a whole, played much better and more efficient in week two compared to the opener. In week three, hopefully all the bugs are being worked out, for when Pitt does have the offense firing on all cylinders, it is an impressive squad to watch. The Panthers play an up-tempo style, getting up to the line of scrimmage right after the end of a play. If Pitt is able to get the ground game going, be it A.J. Davis, Vincent Davis, or Todd Sibley, they will open the door for the passing game to flourish under Kenny Pickett, who had a good groove going against Ohio, passing for 321 yards as mentioned above.

Buffalo actually had Penn State on their heels a bit in the first half with their speed and play-making abilities. They led the Nittany Lions 13-10 at the half. The Bulls had the ball and the opportunity to add to their lead, but a back breaking interception that was returned for a PSU touchdown turned the entire game around for the Lions, and just like that, the crowd, and the team awakened to spank Buffalo the rest of the way.

This is a game that is going to surprise a few people, especially the odds makers. Both teams have pretty good defenses. The biggest question will be what offense makes the most plays and does not turn the ball over. Perhaps it’s crazy to suggest Pitt is going to walk into Beaver Stadium and silence over 100,000 people when the clock strikes zero in the 4th quarter, but there comes a time when a program finally takes the bull by the horns and establishes itself to the entire world. This is just the game for Pitt to quiet it’s critics and finally put it all together for one scintillating game.

Pitt has a history of turning sizable underdog point spreads against them on their ears. Ask West Virginia about 13-9, or Clemson about 43-42.

Pitt ends this rivalry (for now) in unbelievable fashion as Alex Kessman will kick a game winning field goal as time expires…

Pitt 27 Penn State 24



Game Information

Pitt Panthers vs Penn State Nittany Lions

  • Venue: Beaver Stadium, University Park, PA. | Field: Natural Bluegrass
  • Game-time: Saturday, September 14th, at Noon ET
  • Game Tickets Link
  • TV: ABC-TV (WTAE-TV, Channel 4, in Pittsburgh) | Announcers: Chris Fowler (play-by-play) Todd Blackledge (analyst) | Holly Rowe (reporter)
  • Local Radio: Pittsburgh- 93.7 The Fan | Announcers: Bill Hillgrove (play-by-play) Pat Bostick (analyst) | Larry Richert (reporter)
  • Online Radio:
  • Sirius XM Satellite Radio: XM Channel 383, Internet Channel 990
  • Weather at Kickoff: 68 with a 45% chance of rain. Winds S 8 mph.
  • Vegas Line: Penn State -17.5



Pitt Panthers vs Penn State Nittany Lions History

Series History: Began in 1893

  • Pitt is 43-52-4 overall vs Penn State
  • At Home: 36-29
  • On Road: 6-18
  • Neutral Site: 1-5
  • ACC Series: N/A
  • Streak: Penn State won last two meetings
  • Last Regular Season Meeting: Sept. 8, 2018 (Penn State 51, Pitt 6)


Did You Know?* 

  • Pitt and Penn State meet for the 100th time in a series widely regarded as one of college football’s classic rivalries. This also marks the final game in a four-year scheduling agreement that began in 2016.
  • At one time an annual Keystone State clash, this historic series began in 1893 and has pitted former high school teammates and even family members against one another.
  • With 99 games played, Penn State ranks as the Panthers’ second-most played opponent. Pitt’s “Backyard Brawl” series with West Virginia ranks first with 104 all-time meetings.
  • Since 1979, Pitt has played at Beaver Stadium 11 times and is 4-7 in those contests. Pitt is 0-5 since a 14-7 win in 1988.
  • Junior quarterback Kenny Pickett is coming off one of the finest games of his career. Pickett fueled Pitt’s 20-10 win over Ohio by connecting on 70% of his passes (26 of 37) for a personal-best 321 yards with one TD and zero interceptions.
  • Through two contests, the Panthers rank 24th nationally in total defense, surrendering just 261 yards per game. Penn State’s offense will provide Pitt’s stiffest test to date. The Nittany Lions are averaging515 yards (26th in FBS).

    *Courtesy of



A look at the Pitt Panthers!


Scouting the Panthers

OFFENSE (Pro Style)



Kenny Pickett*

Tough kid, good arm, accurate when not under heavy pressure. Utilizes his legs well and scrambles for extra yards.

  • Passing Yards: 506 | TD Passes: 2 | Interceptions: 2 | Sacks: 5 | Yards Rushing: 15 | Rushing TD’s: 0



A.J. Davis*

Talented ball carrier who looks to make his mark in the 2019 season.

  • Yards Rushing: 114 | Rushing TD’s: 1 | Receptions: 3 | Yards Receiving: 72 | Receiving TD’s: 0


Vincent Davis

The ultra quick Vincent Davis looks to utilize his speed  and agility to be a game-breaker for the Panthers.

  • Yards Rushing: 56 | Rushing TD’s: 1 | Receptions: 0 | Yards Receiving: 0 | Receiving TD’s: 0


Todd Sibley

Like his fellow back Davis, yearning for a breakout season toting the rock for the Panthers.

  • Yards Rushing: 26 | Rushing TD’s: 0 | Receptions: 1 | Yards Receiving: 2 | Receiving TD’s: 0



Maurice Ffrench*

One of the best returners in the game. Looking to take his receiving game to the next level.

  • Receptions: 16 | Receiving Yards: 192 | Receiving TD’s: 1 | Rushing Yards: -3 | Rushing TD’s: 0


Taysir Mack*

Reliable in his route running and hands…normally.

  • Receptions: 9 | Receiving Yards: 90 | Receiving TD’s: 0 | Rushing Yards: 0  | Rushing TD’s: 0


Tre Tipton*

Enters this season looking to have a breakout season for the Panthers.

  • Receptions: 5 | Receiving Yards: 53 | Receiving TD’s: 1 | Rushing Yards: 0 | Rushing TD’s: 0


Aaron Matthews

Great blocker who would like to incorporate a few catches intro his arsenal.

  • Receptions: 2 | Receiving Yards: 30 | Receiving TD’s: 0 | Rushing Yards: 0 | Rushing TD’s: 0


V’lique Carter

Versatile player who also moonlights as a RB and at cornerback. Special athlete.

  • Receptions: 1 | Receiving Yards: 3 | Receiving TD’s: 0 | Rushing Yards: 30 | Rushing TD’s: 0


Shocky Jaques-Louis

Has all the talent in the world. Will this be the year he displays all of it. Starts season not listed on the Two-Deep roster…

  • Receptions: 0 | Receiving Yards: 0 | Receiving TD’s: 0 | Rushing Yards: 0 | Rushing TD’s: 0


Dontavius Butler-Jenkins

  • Receptions: 0 | Receiving Yards: 0 | Receiving TD’s: 0 | Rushing Yards: 0  | Rushing TD’s: 0


John Vardzel

  • Receptions: 0 | Receiving Yards: 0 | Receiving TD’s: 0 | Rushing Yards: 0 | Rushing TD’s: 0



Will Gragg*

Hoping to bring the position out of the lost and found.

  • Receptions: 7 | Receiving Yards: 42 | Receiving TD’s: 0 | Rushing Yards: 0  | Rushing TD’s: 0


Nakia Griffin-Stewart

  • Receptions: 3 | Receiving Yards: 22 | Receiving TD’s: 0 | Rushing Yards: 0 | Rushing TD’s: 0


Grant Carrigan

  • Receptions: 0 | Receiving Yards: 0 | Receiving TD’s: 0 | Rushing Yards: 0 | Rushing TD’s: 0

*Denotes Starter


Left Tackle: Carter Warren | Left Guard: Bryce Hargrove | Center: Jimmy Morrissey | Right Guard: Gabe Houy | Right Tackle: Nolan Ulizio


DEFENSE (Base 4-3)

Defensive End: Patrick Jones II | Defensive Tackle: Jaylen Twyman | Defensive Tackle: Amir Watts/Devin Danielson | Defensive End: Deslin Alexandre

Money LB: Kylan Johnson | Mike LB: Elias Reynolds | Star LB: Cam Bright/Phil Campbell III

Cornerback: Dane Jackson | Strong Safety: Paris Ford | Free Safety: Damar Hamlin | Cornerback: Jason Pinnock/Damarri Mathis




Alex Kessman

Needs to be more consistent. 

  • Extra Points: 4-4 | FG: 2-4 | 0-19:  0-0 | 20-29:  1-2 | 30-39:  0-0 | 40-49:  1-2 | 50+:  0-1 | Long: 41



Kirk Christodoulou

  • Yards per Punt: 44.1




Maurice Ffrench

Ffrench averaged 27.4 yards per return last year with two touchdowns.

  • Yards per Kickoff Return: 26.0 | Return TD’s: 0



Maurice Ffrench

  • Yards per Kickoff Return: 3.1 | Return TD’s: 0



Pitt Injury Report (9/12/19)

  • Out: DL Rashad Weaver (ACL), DE Keyshon Camp (Knee)
  • Doubtful: None
  • Questionable: None
  • Probable: None



Penn St

A look at the Penn State Nittany Lions!

Scouting the Nittany Lions

OFFENSE (Spread)



Sean Clifford*

Nice arm and can burn you if he gets free of the pocket with his speed.

  • Passing Yards: 559 | TD Passes: 6 | Interceptions: 0 | Sacks: 3 | Yards Rushing: 108 | Rushing TD’s: 0




Ricky Slade*

Listed as the #1 RB in PSU’s rushing arsenal. 

  • Yards Rushing: 17 | Rushing TD’s: 1 | Receptions: 1 | Yards Receiving: 26 | Receiving TD’s: 0


Devyn Ford

The Nittany Lions leading rusher through two games.

  • Yards Rushing: 108 | Rushing TD’s: 1 | Receptions: 3 | Yards Receiving: 6 | Receiving TD’s: 0


Journey Brown

  • Yards Rushing: 66 | Rushing TD’s: 2 | Receptions: 2 | Yards Receiving: 31 | Receiving TD’s: 0


Noah Cain

  • Yards Rushing: 46 | Rushing TD’s: 3 | Receptions: 0 | Yards Receiving: 0 | Receiving TD’s: 0


Nick Eury

  • Yards Rushing: 44 | Rushing TD’s: 1 | Receptions: 0 | Yards Receiving: 0 | Receiving TD’s: 0




K.J. Hamler*

Penn State’s best offensive threat. 

  • Receptions: 7 | Receiving Yards: 177 | Receiving TD’s: 2 | Rushing Yards: 16  | Rushing TD’s: 0


Jahan Dotson*

  • Receptions: 5 | Receiving Yards: 122 | Receiving TD’s: 2 | Rushing Yards: 0  | Rushing TD’s: 0


Justin Shorter

  • Receptions: 4 | Receiving Yards: 45 | Receiving TD’s: 0 | Rushing Yards: 0 | Rushing TD’s: 0


Daniel George

  • Receptions: 2 | Receiving Yards: 28 | Receiving TD’s: 0 | Rushing Yards: 0 | Rushing TD’s: 0


Weston Carr

  • Receptions: 3 | Receiving Yards: 27 | Receiving TD’s: 0 | Rushing Yards: 0  | Rushing TD’s: 0




Pat Frieremuth*

Talented tight end that makes an inviting target across the middle.

  • Receptions: 9 | Receiving Yards: 124 | Receiving TD’s: 2 | Rushing Yards: 0  | Rushing TD’s: 0

*Denotes Starter



DEFENSE (Base 4-3)

So far, so good… at least against the likes of Idaho and Buffalo. The Bulls were successful in passing the ball last week, and their speed appeared to have the Nittany Lions on their heels a few times. Good, physical front seven that make tackles in open space.





Jake Pinegar

  • Extra Points: 16-16 | FG: 3-3 | 0-19:  0-0 | 20-29:  1-2 | 30-39:  2-2 | 40-49:  0-0 | 50+:  0-0 | Long: 38


Jordan Stout

  • Extra Points: 0-0 | FG: 1-1| 0-19:  0-0 | 20-29:  0-0 | 30-39:  0-0 | 40-49:  0-0 | 50+:  1-1 | Long: 53



Penn State Injury Report (9/12/19)

  • Out: None
  • Doubtful: None
  • Questionable: None
  • Probable: None



Total Offense: Pitt averages 372 YPG | Penn State averages 515 YPG

  • Rushing: Pitt averages 119 YPG | Penn State averages 204.5 YPG
  • Passing: Pitt averages 253 YPG | Penn State averages 310.5 YPG
  • Scoring: Pitt averages 17 PPG | Penn State averages 62 PPG


Total Defense: Pitt allows 261 YPG | Penn State allows 287 YPG

  • Rushing: Pitt allows 82 YPG | Penn State allows 94 YPG
  • Passing: Pitt allows 179 YPG | Penn State allows 193 YPG
  • Scoring: Pitt allows 20 PPG | Penn State allows 10 PPG


Defensive Stats


  • Sacks: 9 | Interceptions: 0 | Fumbles: 0

Penn State

  • Sacks: 8 | Interceptions: 2 | Fumbles: 1


ACC Standings


Pitt Panthers 2019 Schedule

Regular Season: Overall: 1-1 |  ACC: 0-1

August 31: Virginia* (ACCN), L- 30-14
September 7: Ohio (ACCN), W- 20-10
September 14: at #13 Penn State (ABC), Noon
September 21: #17 UCF, 3:30 p.m.
September 28: Delaware, TBA
October 5: at Duke*, TBA
October 18: (Friday) at #Syracuse* (ESPN), 7 p.m.
October 26: Miami* (HC), TBA
November 2: at Georgia Tech*, TBA
November 14: (Thursday) North Carolina* (ESPN), 8 p.m.
November 23: at Virginia Tech*, TBA
November 30: Boston College*, TBA

*ACC game | (HC) Homecoming | Bold = Home Game













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Mike DrakulichYour source for Pittsburgh sports!
From Midland, "The Basketball Capital of Pennsylvania", located 35 miles NW of Pittsburgh along the Ohio River. This former steel town was home to storied athletes such as Dave Alston, Norm Van Lier, Simmie Hill, and the legendary 1965 Midland High School Basketball Team.

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As Editor of Pittsburgh SportsNation, Mike Drakulich provides top notch opinions and coverage of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Pittsburgh Pirates, Pitt Panthers football & basketball, Robert Morris Colonials basketball, and Duquesne Dukes basketball, as well as all sports teams that represent Western Pennsylvania, including WPIAL High School Football.

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