Penn State Preview: Michigan

Purdue 2019 (Photo by Steve Manuel)

The Football Letter/Steve Manuel 

UNIVERSITY PARK — 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. 7 Penn State vs. No. 16 Michigan, 7:30 p.m. kickoff, broadcast on ABC.

Venue: Beaver Stadium, where Penn State boasts an all-time record of 294-74.

Weather forecast (via AccuWeather): High of 59 degrees and mostly sunny.

The line: Penn State –8.5.

Last week: Penn State outlasted Iowa 17-12 at Kinnick Stadium, while Michigan thumped Illinois 42-25.

All-time series: Michigan leads 14-8.

Last meeting (2018): Michigan earned a convincing 42-7 victory in Ann Arbor.

Throwback classic (2008): Penn State roared back from an early 10-point deficit to dismantle Michigan 46-17 on the Nittany Lions’ path to a Big Ten title and Rose Bowl appearance.

Overview: Penn State’s trajectory had them competing for a spot in the playoff next season, though they’re showing this year is also a reality. Sean Clifford’s acclimated to the offense immediately, distributing the ball efficiently through the air while also remaining a threat to run whenever needed. The defense has been as good as imaginable, with future NFL first-round draft pick Yetur Gross-Matos totaling 18 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, and 5.5 sacks to lead the group.

Here’s what Michigan has going in its favor. The Wolverines essentially have to win this game, both in terms of the Big Ten race, and their season. They host No. 8 Notre Dame next weekend, and if they lose both contests, then it’ll feel like Harbaugh will never win the Big Ten or national championship at Michigan. Remember, this was supposed to be the year for the Wolverines, with Shea Patterson coming back to run a revamped offense, Ohio State welcoming a new coach, and Penn State moving on from Trace McSorley. So, Saturday means a lot more to Michigan. Not just for this season, though also for their future.

Penn State wins if: the White Out atmosphere is everything it promises to be. The crowd will undoubtedly be loud, disruptive, and influential in the outcome of the game. For all the talk about Xs and Os this week, what’ll be most interesting to see is how Patterson and the Wolverine offensive line handle what’ll be the toughest environment they’ll play in this year, and maybe in their collegiate careers.

Michigan wins if: Josh Gattis engineers the best offensive performance of his career. After working with James Franklin for a number of years, including at Penn State as the wide receivers coach, Gattis now serves as Michigan’s offensive coordinator. The Wolverines have produced big numbers, albeit against Rutgers and Illinois, though have looked fairly stagnant during other parts of the season (Wisconsin, Army). Penn State features perhaps the best front-seven and overall defense in the country, so Gattis needs to show something we haven’t seen yet this season: a big-time performance against a marquee opponent.

Keep an eye on: Noah Cain. While Penn State’s running back rotation has continued through thte first half of the season, Cain constantly stands out. He was in the game during the Nittany Lions’ season-defining drive last week against Iowa, capping off a scoring drive and giving Penn State enough cushion to hold off the Hawkeyes. Cain’s a true freshman, though has shown he can handle the spotlight.

Trivia tidbit: Penn State stands 6-0 for the fourth time since 2000.

Predictions

John Patishnock: Penn State 31, Michigan 21

Vince Lungaro: Penn State 24, Michigan 14

From The Archives: Penn State V. Michigan (2008)

Penn State v. Michigan (Photo by Steve Manuel)

Evan Royster finished with a game-high 174 rushing yards. Photo credit: The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

The week leading up to the showdown against the Wolverines was typically jovial at University Park.

Fans camped outside Beaver Stadium starting on Monday, and hundreds of alumni helped dedicate the Alumni Walk at the Hintz Family Alumni Center on Friday. In between, all the usual wonderment enveloped Happy Valley during Homecoming of the 2008 season.

Then, the game started, and the good vibes changed.

Punctuating this point, John Black stated in the lead to that game’s edition of The Football Letter: “All the omens were ominous.”

Michigan had bested Penn State nine consecutive times in the previous decade. And on the first play of the game, A.Q. Shipley’s snap sailed over the head of quarterback Daryll Clark, resulting in a 16-yard loss after Clark fell on the ball.

The Wolverines then corralled a 17-7 lead early in the second quarter.

Penn State scored 39 unanswered for a resounding 46-17 victory that halted all the built-up frustration. Clark ran for two scores and tossed a short touchdown to Jordan Norwood — “a 3-yard laser,” as Black described.

Penn State v. Michigan (Photo by Steve Manuel)

Daryll Clark accounted for three touchdowns while leading Penn State to the comeback victory on Homecoming. Photo credit: The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Evan Royster gashed Michigan for 174 rushing yards on only 18 carries. Penn State’s all-time leading rusher started the scoring for the Nittany Lions with a 44-yard touchdown run toward the end of the first quarter.

The Wolverines stumbled through one of their worst seasons, finishing 2008 with a 3-9 overall mark and 2-6 in the Big Ten.

Penn State’s season, meanwhile, continued on an upward trajectory. Well, at least, for the most part. The Nittany Lions suffered one of the program’s most painful losses in the last quarter-century two weeks later, a 24-23 setback at Iowa on a last-second field goal. Daniel Murray booted in a 31-yard field goal with one second left for the Hawkeyes, derailing Penn State’s national championship aspirations.

Penn State rebounded, defeating Indiana and Michigan by a combined score of 83-25 to finish the regular season 11-1. The Nittany Lions earned a Rose Bowl berth, dropping a 38-24 decision to USC in Pasadena.

Back to the comeback against the Wolverines.

That week’s edition of The Football Letter featured a front-cover photo of a Beaver Stadium, flyover by two Navy F-18 Hornet jets, a good example of how this member-benefit publication showcases the entire day—and surrounding pageantry—of fall Saturdays.

When those game days happen in Happy Valley, there’s even more of an opportunity to connect alumni and friends to the program through Steve Manuel’s photos and John’s firsthand account.

You can view the game’s photo gallery on our Flickr page, and also browse galleries over the years by visiting our “albums” tab.

From the Alumni Blue Band’s performance to Black describing how “a colorful autumn sunset glow settled over Bald Eagle Ridge,” fans got the complete picture of not just how Penn State beat Michigan, but also what it was like to be in University Park on game day.”

Taken from The Football Letter’s intro that bookended the lead recalling the ominous omens:

“From the nation’s largest Homecoming Parade, to the soccer and volleyball victories to the White Out student section in Beaver Stadium dancing and singing to music of Celebration, it was a wonderful 89th Homecoming.”

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Two Navy F-18 Hornet jets flew over Beaver Stadium prior to kickoff against Michigan. Photo credit: The Football Letter/Steve Manuel

Penn State Preview: Purdue

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. 12/11 Penn State vs. Purdue, noon kickoff, broadcast on ESPN.

 

Venue: Beaver Stadium, where Penn State boasts an all-time record of 293-74.

 

Weather forecast (via AccuWeather): High of 60 degrees with plenty of sunshine.

 

The line: Penn State – 28.5

 

Last week: Penn State dominated Maryland 59-0, while Purdue dropped a home contest to Minnesota 38-31.

 

All-time series: Penn State leads 14-3-1.

 

Last meeting (2016): Penn State blasted Purdue 62-24 in West Lafayette, overcoming a sluggish first half to earn the convincing win. This game is also noteworthy since it came right after the Nittany Lions’ upset of No. 2 Ohio State, setting up Penn State’s run to a Big Ten title and the Rose Bowl.

 

Throwback classic (2004): The White Out is now widely regarded as one of the best environments in college football, and perhaps all of sports. But back in 2004, it was a novelty, with the student section wearing all white for the first time during a 20-13 loss to undefeated ninth-ranked Purdue (the first stadium-wide White Out came years later).

 

Overview: Win Saturday, and Penn State sets itself up for a highly compelling four-game stretch against Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, and Minnesota — the Golden Gophers have started the season 4-0. More immediate, the Boilermakers enter this weekend with a disappointing 1-3 mark, and head coach Jeff Brohm announced earlier in the week that star wide receiver Rondale Moore will be out after suffering an injury last weekend. Without him, it’s difficult to see Purdue scoring 30-plus points, a mark that Penn State should surpass; the Nittany Lions are averaging 50 per game so far this year. Purdue quarterback Elijah Sindelar will also sit out after being injured on the same play as Moore, so the Boilermakers need a whole lot to go right for them to pull off an upset on Homecoming weekend in Happy Valley.

 

Penn State wins if: the defense continues to create mayhem. Penn State’s given up only 30 points through four games, and with the offense having the potential to 40-plus seemingly every week, even a workmanlike performance Saturday should be enough to keep Penn State unbeaten.

 

Purdue wins if: the Boilermakers can make Sean Clifford uncomfortable. For as much as success as Clifford (and the offense) has had this year, he did look rattled, at times, when Pitt pressured him last month. Purdue clearly can’t win a shootout, so the Boilers’ best chance is to grind out the clock and limit Clifford’s opportunities when the Nittany Lions have the ball.

 

Keep an eye on: Penn State’s third down success. Last week, the Nittany Lions converted its first seven third down opportunities and finished 9-of-13.

 

Trivia tidbit: Thirteen Nittany Lions caught at least one reception last week against Maryland, the second time Penn State receivers have hit that mark (Idaho).

 

Predictions

John Patishnock: Penn State 45, Purdue 14 

 

Vincent Lungaro: Penn State 41, Purdue 10 

From the Archives: Penn State V. Purdue (2000)

From the Archives—Purdue (1)

Tragedy has a way of galvanizing families and communities.

This is the way John Black eloquently started the Oct. 2, 2000 edition of The Football Letter.

Penn State upended a Drew Brees-led Purdue squad 22-20 a few days earlier at Beaver Stadium, one of five victories the team earned during one of the rare losing campaigns in Joe Paterno’s tenure as Nittany Lion head coach.

The score, though, really wasn’t the point. That’s why it wasn’t until the eighth paragraph that Black mentioned anything that happened in the game.

The week leading up to the contest? That’s what set this game apart from your typical fall Saturday in Happy Valley. The events that transpired on campus and at the Ohio State University Hospital are what alumni and fans wanted to hear, read, and learn more about.

Many Penn Staters are familiar with what happened the previous week, when defensive back Adam Taliaferro suffered a catastrophic injury against the Buckeyes. Tragic, and possibly life-altering, Penn State football had never seen one of its players suffer such an injury before, Black summarized.

And while Taliaferro’s inspiring story has been on display for many years — he fully recovered physically and is now successful in several career fields — back in 2000, his future was very much in doubt.

Coaches, teammates, and fans knew this, which made the following week unavoidably surreal.

Justin Kurpeikis, a senior defensive end on the 2000 squad who also played in the NFL, said the days leading up to the Purdue game were different from anything he had ever experienced in the sport.

“From the moment he got injured, I think there was this feel of how serious it was,” Kurpeikis said. “The news we got the following week — just a lot of raw emotion.”

Taliaferro spent four days in the hospital, undergoing cervical spinal decompression surgery, and Paterno and Athletic Director Tim Curley flew back to Columbus to visit Taliaferro and his family in the hospital. Paterno even cancelled practice on Monday, something that seems unheard of today, and probably back then, too.

All of which underscored the seriousness that overshadowed the team leading up to the showdown against the Boilermakers, a formidable opponent that season. Purdue finished the regular season 8-3 and tied for the Big Ten championship with Michigan and Northwestern with a 6-2 conference mark.

“Emotion wears off, preparation and focus don’t,” said Kurpeikis, who grew up near Pittsburgh and played at Central Catholic High School.

“I think what we saw different that week was it provided a way for that team — and we weren’t particularly good that year, we ended up 5-7 — but because of him and what he meant to guys and how jarring the experience was, it forced guys all week long …  If you say you’re going to play for someone, then that focus has to be there, and that’s what I think it was.”

After both teams tallied a pair of field goals in the first half, Purdue took a temporary lead (13-6) after Brees caught a touchdown pass. The Heisman Trophy hopeful had broken the Big Ten record by completing 33-of-49 passes for 409 yards against Minnesota the previous week.

Fullback Paul Jefferson and quarterback Rashard Casey each recorded a rushing score to help push Penn State to the victory over 22nd-ranked Purdue, with Black saying that “Beaver Stadium rocked Saturday like it hasn’t for several years.”

Paterno stated it was the most difficult week of his career as a coach, and defensive coordinator Tom Bradley called Taliaferro before the game to let him know the team was thinking of him. There was a group prayer on the Old Main steps that featured Paterno as a speaker, with funds collected for Taliaferro’s long-term care. At the on-campus rally, fans also signed cards for Taliaferro, in a sign of unity.

Nearly two decades later, Kurpeikis still strongly relates to that sense of belonging, mainly because Penn State has always felt like home for him.

His first memory is watching a game at Beaver Stadium, from the vantage point of his dad’s shoulders. From that moment, Penn State’s the only place where he’s wanted to be. After starring for the Nittany Lions, he played a half-dozen seasons in the NFL before returning to State College in 2007. He’s lived full time in the area since and has founded two companies.

One of his ventures is Atlas Therapy, which specializes in physical therapy clinics in State College and Altoona. He studied a pre-med curriculum at Penn State, and even had aspirations to become a doctor after his playing days. He looked at ways to stay healthy as a player, and he always liked medicine and anatomy, so the transition from NFL player to business owner became something of a natural path.

His time at Penn State served him well, and still does in many ways. While playing for Paterno, Kurpeikis learned about formulating a team, and the importance of a mission, and culture, and accomplishing something special.

All of those ideals, he said, are what drive him today to grow his companies and do things the right way.

Penn State’s still a part of that, and from the way he speaks fondly of his days as a Nittany Lion, always will be.

“There’s not a day that’s gone by since I came to school here — including every day since — that I haven’t thought on a lesson or a quote that either Coach Paterno or my other coaches have said, and that’s a very important time in a young man’s life, 18-22 years old,” Kurpeikis said.

“Every day, whether it’s my family or my business, there’s a situation where I can recall on something that either Joe or one of the other coaches said, or something that went on with my experience that relates. That’s pretty powerful to say that.”

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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.