Penn State Preview: Pitt

Penn State at Pitt  (Photo by Steve Manuel)

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Each week, we’ll tell you what to expect, what to keep an eye on, and where and when you can catch the Nittany Lions on fall Saturdays this season.

 

Game details: No. 13/11 Penn State vs. Pitt, noon kickoff, broadcast on ABC.

 

Venue: Beaver Stadium, where Penn State boasts an all-time record of 292-74. 

 

Weather forecast (via AccuWeather): High of 74 degrees, with a few showers.

 

The line: Penn State – 17.5

 

Last week: Penn State used an explosive second half to upend Buffalo 45-13, while Pitt outlasted Ohio 20-10.

 

All-time series: Penn State leads 52-43-4.

 

Last meeting (2018): Penn State dominated Pitt in the rain at Heinz Field, winning 51-6.

 

Throwback classic (1981): Once upon a time, Pitt’s football program was nationally relevant. The Panthers were ranked No. 1 in 1981, but not after the Nittany Lions overcame an early two-touchdown deficit to score 48 consecutive points, resulting in a 48-14 victory that dethroned and derailed Pitt. Todd Blackledge outdueled Dan Marino, completing 12-of-23 passes for 262 yards, and two touchdowns to Kenny Jackson. The defense intercepted Marino four times, and the Panthers lost three fumbles. You can read more about the game in this New York Times article.

 

Overview: Here it is, the 100th and last scheduled meeting between Penn State and Pitt. Did this use to be a rivalry? Sure? Is it anymore? Eh, not really. The game is still important, just as much as Idaho and Buffalo, though not more beyond that. As James Franklin said earlier this week, players aren’t choosing Penn State because of the outcome of one game, so there aren’t recruiting implications like before. And it’s a non-conference game. Pitt won in 2016, and Penn State went on to win the Big Ten and play in the Rose Bowl. The Panthers, meanwhile, finished the year 8-5 with a loss to Northwestern in the Pinstripe Bowl. So, this game doesn’t have lasting ramifications like it once did. 

 

Penn State wins if: the Nittany Lions establish the running game. Most likely, Penn State will have a handful of explosive plays, with Sean Clifford proving he can throw a nice deep ball. However, Penn State can’t depend on those plays to win. A solid ground attack should go a long way to ensure the Nittany Lions win their third straight in this series.

 

Pitt wins if: the Panthers can put together sustained drives all game. Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett struggled last year — indicated by the six points the Panthers scored — though he threw a career-high 321 yards in last week’s victory over the Bobcats. Pitt will need that level of playmaking to have a chance Saturday.

 

Keep an eye on: KJ Hamler. The speedy and electric wide receiver scored on a jet sweep in last year’s game at Heinz Field, and he’s spoken about having his role expanded. Basically, the idea is to get Hamler the ball as much as possible, put him in open space, and let him do what he does best.

 

Trivia tidbit: Penn State has won nine straight games over non-conference opponents.

 

Predictions

John Patishnock: Penn State 42, Pitt 21

 

Vince Lungaro: Penn State 38, Pitt 17

From the Archives: Penn State V. Pitt (1974)

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Penn State-Pitt matchups over the years have featured some classic battles.

And also, some memorable stories.

We’ll throw it back a little further for this week’s edition of From the Archives, looking at how The Football Letter’s creator and original writer Ridge Riley ’32 shared an in-depth look at Penn State football like nobody else could.

The year was 1974. The site: Three Rivers Stadium.

Penn State has largely dominated this series for the last 50-plus years (25-8-1 since 1966), and this impressive run includes a win coming on Thanksgiving night in their regular season finale in ’74.

During a pre-game players meeting — which preceded the team prayer — running back Tom Donchez gave such a fiery pep talk that he closed out his remarks by throwing his helmet off the side of a locker.

The helmet bounced off and hit starting linebacker Greg Buttle square between the eyes, knocking him out cold. This was problematic, perhaps mostly because Buttle called the defensive plays.

Riley recounted this sequence in The Football Letter that recapped the victory, writing that when Joe Paterno heard Buttle couldn’t play, the legendary coach was heard muttering, “Oh God, can’t we even get through the team prayer without an injury?”

In a sign of the times, even though he was “wobbly and a trifle pale,” Buttle played from the start after he was “patched up like a prizefighter,” Riley wrote. Despite his injury, Buttle was “king of the linebackers,” and assistant head coach John O’Hara proudly declared after the game that Buttle never missed a signal while calling plays.

This last note is even more remarkable since Buttle reported later, “Everything seemed to be in slow motion for the first quarter. I hadn’t known what hit me, and when I came to, everybody was gone. It was just like a bad dream.”

After receiving six stitches in a gash over his eye at halftime, Riley wrote that Buttle played even better in the second half, as the team leader refused to come out of the game.

Ranked No. 10 nationally going into the contest, Penn State collected a 31-10 victory over No. 18 Pitt. The Nittany Lions then capped off the season with a 41-20 victory over Baylor in the Cotton Bowl.

A classic 1-2 punch.

Hot Ticket

Penn State-Pitt ticket

Penn State

There’s plenty of nostalgia that’s conjured up anytime Penn State plays Pitt.

We’ll leave the merits of whether or not this remains a true rivalry game for another time, though we got a chuckle out of uncovering this image of a Penn State-Pitt ticket from the 1967 game at Beaver Stadium.

Five bucks got you a seat. Even adjusting for inflation, that was below the current market rate. We also wouldn’t mind seeing those end zone graphics return, though we’ll leave that decision to the experts who ensure Beaver Stadium’s field is the best in the nation.

If you’ve got any cool Penn State-Pitt swag, post your images to Twitter and tag The Football Letter, or share on Facebook and tag the Alumni Association.

Penn State Preview: Buffalo

Penn State v. Idaho 79-7 (Photo by Steve Manuel)

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Each week, we’ll tell you what to expect, what to keep an eye on, and where and when you can catch the Nittany Lions on fall Saturdays this season.

 

Game details: No. 15/14 Penn State vs. Buffalo, 7:30 p.m., broadcast on FOX.

 

Venue: Beaver Stadium, where Penn State boasts an all-time record of 291-74. 

 

Weather forecast (via AccuWeather): High of 73 degrees, partly sunny and pleasant.

 

The line: Penn State – 28.5

 

Last week: Penn State pounded Idaho 79-7, while Buffalo defeated Robert Morris 38-10.

 

All-time series: Penn State leads 2-1.  

 

Last meeting (2015): Penn State won 27-14 at a soggy Beaver Stadium. This game also represented the beginning of the legend of Saquon Barkley, who pulled off the first of his many impressive hurdles over an unsuspecting Bulls defender. Barkley also scored a touchdown and ran for more than 100 yards in his first home game.

 

Throwback classic (1900): We’ll give this category to the Bulls, who defeated Penn State 10-0 at Buffalo. While William “Pop” Golden led the Nittany Lions, the Bulls played without a coach.

 

Overview: The one question everyone seems to be asking is “Just how good is this Penn State team?” There’s a ton of talent, and perhaps more experience than some fans think — thanks to guys redshirting and getting game reps last year — though can this year’s Nittany Lions compete for a Big Ten title? It’ll probably be another month before we have a clear answer, though they can continue to impress Saturday against another overmatched opponent. However, Buffalo is capable of making this competitive. The Bulls won a school-record 10 games last season, winning the MAC East Division. Buffalo rushed for 285 yards last week in its season-opening victory against Robert Morris, though Penn State’s impressive defensive front will (obviously) present a much, much bigger challenge. Still, it might be good for Penn State’s long-term interest if the team faces more pushback before facing Pitt and the Big Ten slate.

 

Penn State wins if: the Nittany Lions avoid mistakes. Penn State clearly has more talent, size, and strength, and it’s difficult seeing Buffalo sustain long drives the entire game. Don’t give the Bulls a short field and stay on schedule offensively, and Penn State should have a carousel of reserves see game time this Saturday, too.

 

Buffalo wins if: Penn State loses it. Even if the Bulls play a near-perfect game, chances are it still won’t be enough to pull off a historic upset. Making a few plays early will certainly help, and if this were a noon kickoff, maybe that could be more probably, though a primetime kick at Beaver Stadium will have all of Happy Valley rocking from the start.

 

Count on: another running back rotation. It worked so well the first week, so why change anything? Five backs combined for seven rushing touchdowns, and the offensive line should have its way against the Bulls. Chances are no one back will get more than 12-15 carries (Noah Cain’s nine attempts against Idaho were a team-high mark), so look for the most talented group of running backs in the country to once again share carries.

 

Keep an eye on: Jahan Dotson. The sophomore wide receiver was quiet last week, totaling just one catch for 13 yards. Dotson has plenty of speed and has earned the praise of coaches and teammates in the fall, and this could be the week when he begins to post numbers that match his big-time talent.

 

Trivia tidbit: Penn State has been ranked in the AP poll for the last 41 weeks — the fifth-longest streak in the country. It’s also the fifth-longest mark in program history.

 

Predictions

John Patishnock: Penn State 48, Buffalo 13 

 

Vince Lungaro: Penn State 50, Buffalo 13

From the Archives: Penn State V. Buffalo (2007)

Kinlaw_Athletics (1)

Penn State Athletics

Rodney Kinlaw finally got the opportunity he wanted. And more than 107,000 fans saw him capitalize on it.

For most of his career, Kinlaw needed to be patient. Whether it was injury or other players above him on the depth chart, Kinlaw needed to persevere. And he did.

He persevered after tearing his ACL in his freshman season. Continued to gut it out when he wasn’t receiving the carries he wanted, or felt he deserved.

Finally, Kinlaw’s patience paid off, and in a big-time way.

During his senior season of 2007, Kinlaw recorded six 100-yard rushing games, with the initial outburst coming against Buffalo in mid-September. Penn State recorded a 45-24 victory, overcoming a sluggish start at Beaver Stadium — the Nittany Lions trailed 3-0 after the first quarter.

Kinlaw scored a six-yard touchdown against Buffalo, “as he refused to be stopped and carried the Bulls’ safety into the end zone,” John Black ’62 wrote in The Football Letter. Kinlaw’s scamper occurred in the fourth quarter, capping off a 6-play, 61-yard drive, on a day when Penn State played in front of a sellout crowd of 107,506 fans.

“It was one of the most amazing feelings ever, and something I’ll probably never experience again — playing in front of 100,000 fans,” said Kinlaw, who switched to No. 20 in his senior year, a nod to his favorite player, Barry Sanders.

“What I miss the most is running through the tunnel, and hearing the lion roar, and smelling the grass while stretching before the game. Nothing will compare to that again.”

Kinlaw, who earned a B.A. from the College of the Liberal Arts, finished 2007 with 1,329 rushing yards, accounting for most of his career rushing yards (1,655) during that year. Penn State completed the season with a 9-4 record, tagging Texas A&M with a 24-17 loss in the Alamo Bowl. Kinlaw earned offensive MVP honors by gaining 143 yards on 21 carries; he finished his career strong, as the performance was his third straight 100-yard game.

That bowl effort, and the weeks and months leading up to it, represented the culmination of Kinlaw’s unwavering belief that he could live up to the moment.

He followed up his 100-yard game against Buffalo with similar efforts versus Iowa (168 yards, two touchdowns), Wisconsin (115 yards, touchdown), Temple (168 yards, touchdown), Michigan State (125 yards, two touchdowns), and Texas A&M.

Each game, Kinlaw had at least 20 attempts, including 27 or more on three occasions. That number might have been the most important of all.

“I really remember feeling that I had the confidence, I knew that I had that the whole time,” Kinlaw said. “Getting the carries brought it all back to how I felt when I first got there. I saw holes develop, and the game became easier. Each game that went by, I saw things clearer and clearer, and things got easier for me.”

Kinlaw_Athletics (3)

Penn State Athletics

Before his breakout senior season, Kinlaw needed to overcome that ACL injury, and then didn’t win the starting job until his senior season. He even thought about transferring.

One of the reasons why Kinlaw stayed at Penn State was because his experience as a student-athlete was about more than football. His parents, Rodney Sr. and Isreal, stressed the importance of education. And Penn State certainly provided that. Kinlaw learned valuable lessons while playing for the Nittany Lions that have served him well beyond his playing days.

Be on time. Don’t give up. Respect is paramount.

Nowadays, Kinlaw is a successful Southeast Regional Manager with PDS Tech in Georgia, providing aerospace engineering companies with contingent workers. His college days weren’t much different from what some players are experiencing now, at Penn State and elsewhere.

Players jostling for position on the depth chart, wondering if they should make a move or stay put, all during the most formative time of their lives.

Kinlaw’s confident he made the right decision to stay in Happy Valley. It served him well his senior season, and now as an accomplished businessman.

His message to current players? Think about the next 40 years, not just the next four.

“For the kids who are there now who aren’t getting the opportunity, just stick it out and get your education,” Kinlaw said. “Football won’t last forever. You want to have something you can fall back on. Keep sticking it out, keep pushing, and when you get your opportunity, take advantage of it.”

muddy struggle

1900 Buffalo

University at Buffalo University Libraries/1900 Buffalo football team

Pop Golden figured Penn State would’ve won on a dry field.

If that name doesn’t sound familiar to Nittany Lion football fans, it’s understandable. After all, William “Pop” Golden coached Penn State more than a century ago, and for only three seasons (1900–02).

However, if the 1900 contest against Buffalo is any indicator, he enjoyed an eventful tenure as head coach.

The details of this game are thankfully preserved by the University at Buffalo’s University Archives. We say “thankfully” even though Penn State was tagged with a 10-0 defeat, because the circumstances surrounding the contest are part comical, part impressive, and entirely worth remembering, if only to recognize how far college football has come since its beginning 150 years ago.

So, about the playing conditions:

The game was played on Thanksgiving, with the Buffalo Athletic Field featuring “the worst bog imaginable,” according to the Buffalo Evening News. The outlet also described the season-ending win coming amid “a hard and muddy struggle” in its headline. The New York Times, meanwhile, declared that the gridiron was more fit for water polo than football.

The reason for the undesirable field was that when the Buffalo Railway Company’s scrapers cleared off the snow, they took the turf, too.

Visibility was so bad that players on both sides couldn’t tell who was who. Often, a player would pull who they thought was a teammate from the mud, only to discover they were staring at their opponent.

Pop Golden

William “Pop” Golden

Making matters worse for the Nittany Lions, they were placed in a cold room at halftime, resulting in the players coming out stiff in the second half, according to Golden.

He also said: “I think that Penn State would defeat Buffalo on a dry field.”

Golden hoped Penn State-Buffalo would turn into an annual series, though it was another 107 years before the two squads played again — a 45-24 victory for Penn State at Beaver Stadium in 2007.

You can read the full recap from the 1900 classic — including plenty of other fascinating details — at University at Buffalo’s University Libraries’ website

­For the Glory,

— John Patishnock ’05

Penn State preview: Idaho

Penn State v. PITT (Photo by Steve Manuel)

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Each week, we’ll tell you what to expect, what to keep an eye on, and where and when you can catch the Nittany Lions on fall Saturdays this season.

 

Game details: No. 15/14 Penn State vs. Idaho, 3:30 p.m., broadcast on BTN.

 

Venue: Beaver Stadium, where Penn State boasts an all-time record of 290-74. 

 

Weather forecast (via AccuWeather): High of 75 degrees, with sun and some clouds. 

 

The line: Penn State –36.5.

 

All-time series: First meeting. 

 

Overview: Penn State football returns to Happy Valley. Although there are many compelling storylines for this year’s Nittany Lions, the real story is that football is back. How will Sean Clifford fare in his first career start? What will the running back rotation look like? On the other side of the ball, just how dominant can the defense be this year? We’ll get a first look at a clearly overmatched opponent that shouldn’t push Penn State too much. Make the necessary plays and stay healthy. That’s this weekend’s game plan for the Nittany Lions. 

 

Penn State wins if: the Blue Buses find their way to the stadium.

 

Idaho wins if: We could try to concoct a maze of “this, then that,” scenarios, though we’ll give our readers the benefit of knowing better. Idaho, an FCS opponent, isn’t winning Saturday.

 

Count on: a feel-good vibe all day long. With a mid-afternoon kick and a gorgeous forecast, fans have plenty to look forward to: tailgating, watching (what should be) a comfortable win, and enjoying a wonderful weekend in Happy Valley. 

 

Keep an eye on: Will Levis. Even though Sean Clifford was named the starter (as expected), Saturday’s contest shouldn’t be close in the second half. Maybe James Franklin keeps Clifford in the majority of the game so he can build up game reps, though it wouldn’t be surprising if Levis leads at least a couple of drives. So, both quarterbacks might have a chance to show off their arm in the season opener.

 

Trivia tidbit: Penn State is one of only two teams in the country who have recorded at least 14 consecutive winning seasons, and also been ranked in the AP poll for the last 40-plus weeks. The other team? Oklahoma.

 

Predictions

John Patishnock: Penn State 45, Idaho 7 

 

Vincent Lungaro: Penn State 59, Idaho 10