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Terry Smith Q&A - Georgia State Week

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State assistant head coach and cornerbacks coach Terry Smith joined this week's assistant coaches conference call to talk Penn State football during Georgia State week.

Listen in and catch up on a few notes from Smith's Q&A session.

Update on the Newcomers
Penn State true freshmen corner backs Tariq Castro-Fields and Lamont Wade are two of three true freshmen to make their collegiate debut in 2017. With both developing well, Smith is confident in where their development is at in week three. 

"They have played a decent amount of minutes and plays for the first two games and as the season grows on, we want to have those guys ready so that when we get into conference play - you just never know when injuries are going to set in," Smith said. "We want to have those guys ready so they can step into full time roles as needed."

The Grandpa of The Cornerback Room

When Penn State is recruiting its corners, Smith noted that the type of recruit they are seeking is one who resembles what Haley has done for the Nittany Lions. With an even-keel personality, it's Haley who sets the tone in the room, with his consistency on the field backing up his leadership and accountability, often called the grandpa of the cornerback room as Smith notes. 

"His leadership in our room is why we are playing at a high level right now," Smith said. "A lot that is going on, on the back end is attributed to Grant Haley."

More on the Stripes
Yesterday, Penn State head coach James Franklin mentioned the newest Nittany Lion tradition, where newcomers have to earn the stripes on their practice helmets. Smith noted today that Castro-Fields was actually the first freshman to earn a helmet stripe. 

"Tariq came in really, really prepared," Smith said. "He's a mature kid, he's big, he's strong, he's fast. It was a few weeks, but he has had an instant impact. He has done a really nice job and he continues to get better for us."

Two Week Evaluation
Smith was asked to evaluate the state of the cornerback unit through two weeks, already nearly to the conclusion of week three. 

"I think we're playing at an elite level," Smith said. "I think we're making plays on the football better than we have in the last three years here. I have a great group of guys who are dialed in, they are locked in and they prepare really, really well. They work really hard during the week to perfect their craft."

Practice Report: Georgia State Week

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State head coach James Franklin and safety Nick Scott met with members of the media Wednesday evening following practice to preview Saturday's upcoming Georgia State matchup. 

The Nittany Lions and the Panthers are set for a primetime matchup on Big Ten Network with kickoff slated for 7:30 p.m. in Beaver Stadium. Catch up on a few updates from week three practice. 

Earning Their Stripes
Franklin shared that the Nittany Lions closed out the post-practice huddle with a stripe presentation, a new tradition that he has been thinking about since arriving on campus. All true freshmen, with the exception of the early enrollees entered camp without stripes on their helmets, something that they'd have to earn. 

Inspired by the book "Legacy," Franklin originally wanted to begin the tradition in his first season, but opted to hold off for just the right time, having also sought input from the leadership council.

"It's something I've wanted to do since year one so we finally came up with something that we were all comfortable with that's just all new players in the program," Franklin said. 

Earning a stripe goes further than just what a newcomer is showing on the field, taking into account meeting conduct, respect, catchability and class attendance.

"It's everything," Franklin said. "It's basically, the veteran leadership players that we have are saying, you're doing a really good job and I'm comfortable with the direction you're headed in terms of how we do things around here at Penn State. It's something that each position and each position coach are handling on their own." 

As one of those veteran leadership players, Scott also talked through the process to earn a stripe. 

"It's by position so true freshmen when they come in, they don't have a stripe on their practice helmet, of course they have one in the game," Scott said. "You decide as a position group with your coaches."

Scott named true freshman safety Jonathan Sutherland as a Nittany Lion who has already earned his stripe, right at the end of camp to be exact. 

"We felt that he came in and he was real physical and he picked up the defense pretty fast and has just been playing fast with a lot of confidence so we gave him his stripe," Scott said.

Effort vs. Result
For Scott, the biggest thing he has learned from special teams coordinator Charles Huff all comes down to the difference between effort and result. 

"I came in and I was a huge effort guy," Scott said. "I liked to run down the field and throw my body around but I wasn't always making the play. Basically, that can be ineffective, so we want a bunch of guys who give a lot of effort but at the same time they stay in their lanes, play under control and make plays."

Quick Look at the Georgia State Receivers
In his Tuesday press conference, Franklin made specific note of Georgia State's wide receivers. Solid athletes, no different than the typical high caliber athletes the Nittany Lions generally see, Scott noted that practicing against Penn State's receivers is perfect preparation. 

"We have a lot of athletic guys and a lot of guys with a lot of speed like [Brandon] Polk and DeAndre [Thompkins]," Scott said. "Just being cognizant of that, as DBs we respect every opponent."

Program Spotlight: From the Peach State to Penn State

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By Mark Brumbaugh, Penn State Strategic Communications

Penn State and the Peach State? Not a very common pairing.

That's not to say the Peach State has not had an impact on Penn State.

Penn State prevailed over the University of Georgia in the 1982 Sugar Bowl to earn the national championship, while the two teams met again recently in the 2016 TaxSlayer Bowl. There are four Georgians on the current Nittany Lion roster and one of them is particularly well known for a couple of the plays he made last season.

Penn State fans know it by heart. Marcus Allen leapt for the stars, the field goal kick went off his left arm and Grant Haley, an Atlanta resident, scooped up the bouncing football and had nothing but beautiful green grass and crazed White Out fans ahead of him. The touchdown swung the game in Penn State's favor and the Nittany Lions crashed the national scene with a thrilling win over No. 2 Ohio State.

The victory propelled the Lions to the Big Ten Championship Game, where Haley's stop on fourth-and-1 against Wisconsin sealed the victory and a trip to the Rose Bowl. 

A key asset since he stepped on campus in 2014, Haley's contributions have surpassed two big plays­­­. For his position coach, cornerbacks coach Terry Smith, Haley checks all the boxes.

"Grant is obviously the leader of the cornerback room," Smith said. "He's not very outspoken, but he's a leader by example. He's a great student. He's a really smart, reliable and dependable player. You know exactly what you're getting from him. He's got a lot of experience. He knows our system as well as the coaching staff and he puts that out on the field. That is probably the main reason why his peers voted him captain."

The son of Brown University and Penn State alums who met while both were students at Pitt Medical School, Haley was born in Michigan but moved to Georgia before he can remember, when his father, Leon, got a job at a hospital in Atlanta. In fact, Haley was born into a legacy of education, as his maternal grandfather was a school superintendent and his paternal grandmother was a teacher. 

"Every single thing since I've grown up has been 'academics first,' no matter what," Haley said. "My dad always talks about how with your degree, no one can take that away. Even when football goes away, you're still going to have your degree. It's always been important to me because it's been important to them." 

However, sports have always been Haley's passion. He started with soccer and baseball as a young child, but had trouble getting on the football field right away, as his mom, Carla, who ran track for one year at Penn State, was concerned about injuries and did not let him play until he was in the seventh grade.

Inspired by his grandfather, who was also a high school football coach, Haley always knew he wanted to step onto the gridiron himself. Before he got his mother's permission, Haley honed his athleticism playing a variety of sports, adding basketball to his soccer and baseball repertoire.

Once Haley started playing football, it did not take long for him to excel.

"It was funny, my first game I didn't get tackled by anybody. I ran for like three touchdowns -- it was crazy, but it was exciting," Haley said.

Haley became a four-sport star at The Lovett School in Atlanta, particularly in football and baseball, and he also excelled in the classroom, earning a bronze medal on the National Latin Exam.

When it came down to deciding which sport to pursue at the next level, Haley was drawn to the excitement and camaraderie of football. He then looked for a school that could deliver it all. 

"I always wanted a big college town and obviously my parents were high on the academic side," Haley said. "Going to school and getting a quality education is very important to me and setting myself up for the long run was one of the important things. Just finding a place where I could be comfortable and call home and be able to have trust and relationships with different people socially, athletically and academically."

One school that was not on his radar? Penn State.

"Honestly, the only game I remember watching Penn State was when they played Michigan in the White Out in 2013. My mom had pictures [of Penn State] all over the house, but I had never really thought about going there until Coach Franklin switched over." 

Haley was already verbally committed to Vanderbilt and head coach James Franklin by then. While Vandy had all the attributes Haley was looking for in a school, Coach Franklin had stood out on the recruiting trail. He felt Franklin was someone he could trust. 

  • Mike Gesicki
  • Mike Gesicki
  • Mike Gesicki
"Everything fit perfectly: the college town, academically and athletically." - Grant Haley

"Growing up as a recruit, you can tell when people are real and when people are fake and you can tell he's real," Haley said. "He genuinely cares about his players and wants what's best for them on the field and off the field."

That trust and belief held when Franklin decided to depart Vanderbilt for Penn State in January 2014.

"It was a pretty crazy process because I was committed to Vanderbilt for a couple of months, and that quick switch -- I had to figure out what I was doing in a month," Haley said. "[Coach Franklin] gave me a call a couple days [after he went to Penn State] and he asked me if I would come up to Penn State and visit. I immediately did, and it was the best thing for me, getting a chance to visit Penn State made me love it even more."

Haley's mother helped ease any concerns about the still-intact NCAA sanctions.

"My mom always talked about Joe Paterno, the tradition and pride that Penn State has and how she felt about that," Haley said. "When your mom loves something, you kind of love it too. I'm a momma's boy. I never really put it in my mind about the sanctions. Everything fit perfectly: the college town, academically and athletically."

The family's faith in Penn State was rewarded as the bowl ban was lifted, allowing Haley and the Nittany Lions to take on Boston College in the 2014 Pinstripe Bowl his freshman year. Fittingly for the former baseball star, he drew his first career start at cornerback in that game, which was played in Yankee Stadium. The Nittany Lions went on to win in overtime.

"I wasn't nervous, I felt prepared [going into the game], but just getting thrown in there like that, it was exhilarating," Haley said. "Saying your first start was in Yankee Stadium in a bowl game is something you'll always remember. When we were going into the stadium, I was looking at all the baseball everything and I was kind of in love with that and someday I can tell my kids, 'Yeah, I got to play in Yankee Stadium for the first start of my college career.' That's a pretty important memory for me."

In 2015, Haley moved into the starting lineup, relying on veterans and current NFL-ers like Trevor Williams and Jordan Lucas to guide him. The season resulted in another personally meaningful bowl game, as the Nittany Lions took on Georgia in the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville.

"I never got an offer from Georgia, so it was very personal for me. It was down in Florida, so I had a lot of people come to the game. [The result] was disappointing, but it was a special moment for me to get to go down and play close to home, and have a lot of people come out to support me."

Haley took another step forward as a junior last season, taking on a larger leadership role. Thanks in part to him, the 2016 Penn State football season was among the finest in program history. It ultimately ended in a bowl game special to any college football player, "The Granddaddy of Them All," the Rose Bowl Game. 

Entering this year as a senior, Haley is looking to use the wisdom he has gained over the years to take the team to new heights.

"When I first came in, there was a lot of separation between the team and coaching staff," Haley said. "I think I'm a guy who's seen it all, so I'm able to realize if anything is going bad in the locker room and being able to help out with the guys and the coaching staff, be like a middle man almost. Being on the leadership council for the last three years, I've really understood what it takes to be a leader, becoming a vocal guy."

With the season just getting underway, it remains to be seen what the 2017 season has in store for the Nittany Lions, but if the upward trend of personally meaningful bowl games continues for Haley, the ending could be a good one.

Just look up where the national championship game will be played.

Tuesday Roundup - Georgia State Week

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RELATED LINKS: Franklin Transcript I Thompkins & Farmer Transcript

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State head coach James Franklin met with members of the media Tuesday afternoon to preview Saturday's upcoming Georgia State matchup. Linebacker Koa Farmer and wide receiver DeAndre Thompkins also joined Franklin for a pair of media sessions.

Looking back on last week's performance, Franklin was pleased with the progress the Nittany Lions have made in all three phases of the game.

"Our special teams continue to be a big positive for us," Franklin said. "Our defense is doing some really nice things and really starting to kind of figure out their identity, and then the same thing with our offense. I'm pleased with where we're headed and the progress we're making there." 

Among those areas, Franklin has been quick to point out Thompkins, an explosive punt returner who's already found tremendous success in bolstering the Nittany Lion punt return unit. Thompkins though gives credit to those around him for his success.

"A big part of it is just trusting everyone around you," Thompkins said. "I know every single one of those guys who are in front of me are going to do their job to try to protect me and all I have to do is worry about my job and not have to worry about the other 11 guys coming to basically take my head off."

Now focused on Georgia State, Franklin noted that the Nittany Lions aren't overlooking the Panthers, who are in their eighth season of football and fifth as a member of the Sun Belt Conference.

"I think the thing that probably jumps out to me, is essentially, this same team went to Wisconsin last year and was leading in the fourth quarter," Franklin said. "So they are going to be used to playing in these Big Ten type of environments on the road. Obviously they are a talented team."

On The Quote Board -

- Franklin on a clip he'll show the team today.

"Today I'm going to show a clip to the team of Kobe Bryant. Kobe Bryant is coming down the court, goes behind his back, loses the ball; it's a turnover. The guy goes down the court for an easy layup and Kobe Bryant comes and pins the ball to the backboard with that type of effort. I want to keep emphasizing the importance of playing with tremendous effort because when you do that with all 11 guys on the field, you're able to overcome maybe some deficiencies or maybe some mistakes or weaknesses."

- Farmer's Thoughts on Georgia State

"I think they are a solid program. They had a good game against Wisconsin last year at Wisconsin...Jason [Cabinda] and I were actually going to watch some film on it yesterday. They have some athletes. They run a solid offense and it's going to be a challenging opponent."

- Franklin on the offensive line improvements. 

"I've said this before. If my daughters choose to marry football players, I want them to marry offensive linemen. They are just big, nice, happy, jolly guys that put the team first. They are the ultimate teammates. But that's also one of the challenges. They typically have been big kids their whole life, and being able to find offensive linemen that will get on the field and play with a nasty streak and a nasty demeanor, and then be real gentlemen off the field, that's what we want."

- DeAndre Thompkins' response on if he models himself after. 

"One thing that's different about punt return is that you can't really watch film on anyone catching punts because it's kind an individual type of technique. It's really just backyard football. Once you catch the ball, you just try to get away from everybody who is trying to tackle you. It's like playing tag, basically. There's not really anybody in the NFL that I watch consistently catch punts. I do watch punt return at the NFL level but there's not really a guy that I can single out."

Monday Notebook: Georgia State Week

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Week two is already in the books and per Penn State head coach James Franklin's weekly Sunday tweets this season, it's time to turn toward Georgia State.

Georgia State head coach Shawn Elliott joined the Sun Belt Conference football head coaches call this afternoon to talk Saturday's upcoming outing. It's the first meeting in program history between the two teams as the Nittany Lions enter the week at 2-0 following a 33-14 win against Pittsburgh. At 0-1 on the year, Georgia State returns to action following an early bye week, having dropped a 17-10 decision to Tennessee State in its season opener.

Among his weekly conference call questions, Elliott was asked about Penn State running back Saquon Barkley.

"You know I've had the opportunity to see a lot of good backs in my time and he ranks right up there," Elliott said. "He's powerful, that's the thing about it. He's just got so much strength and you have to gang tackle this guy, you have to rally to the football. I don't think anybody in college football can bring him down alone and that's a huge, huge compliment to the strength and conditioning staff up there. What a tremendous amount of body control and strength they have put into this young man."

With 432 all-purpose yards across two games, there's certainly no doubting Barkley's playmaking abilities. In the win against Pittsburgh, Barkley registered 88 yards on 14 carries with a touchdown, in addition to four catches for 45 yards and another touchdown. He hauled in another 50 yards on a pair of kick returns to earn one of five spots on the Paul Hornung Award Week 2 Honor Roll.

Under The Lights
Penn State will host Georgia State in its first night game of the 2017 season, marking the first Nittany Lion non-conference matchup under the lights since hosting UCF Sept. 14, 2013. At 45-31 all-time in night games, Penn State has also won five of its last six evening outings.

Also interesting to note, among teams currently in the Sun Belt Conference, Penn State has only met Coastal Carolina once in program history. While Coastal Carolina was not a member of the Sun Belt in the 2008 meeting, the Chanticleers joined the conference in July 2016.

Strong, Physical, Fast
Elliot also made mention of Penn State's secondary, calling the unit both talented and skilled.

"They can matchup with pretty much everybody in the country," Elliot said. "Strong, physical and fast." 

Penn State's secondary has embraced every sense of Elliot's description this year, with the Nittany Lions opening 2017 with at least one interception in back-to-back games for a second consecutive year.

While it wasn't a pick, safety Marcus Allen followed interceptions by Grant Haley and Troy Apke with his first career safety, marking the first Penn State safety since Devon Still notched a sack in the end zone at Minnesota in 2010.

"I just read it," Allen said. "I knew it was coming, we practice that a lot during the week so I ready that and just reacted. I saw the lineman starting to widen out, trying to arc left, then I saw number 22 just start going back and I reacted."

Last Word - Pittsburgh
At halftime Andrew Nelson's message to the rest of his offensive line was simply to remember what it feels like have fun. After sustaining an injury that sidelined him for the final eight games of the season, Nelson made his return to the field against Pittsburgh.

"Sometimes people can lose sight of the fun," Nelson said. "That's something that when I got back out there and I was a part of a drive to go down there put it in the end zone, I was like, I'm having a lot of fun out here. I told the guys, when you watch from the sideline for a long time and you finally get back out there, you realize how much fun it was when you were out there playing."

More from Nelson below (starting at 2:25).

Special Teams, Defense Lift Nittany Lions

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State head coach James Franklin made no major mystery of the game plan last week in his Tuesday press conference.

Naming Quadree Henderson a potential Pittsburgh game-wrecker, the Nittany Lions had seemingly no trouble neutralizing the All-American returner from what could have been a game-wrecking afternoon. 

From kickoff to the moment the clock hit 0:00 on the scoreboard, Penn State's special teams unit refused to step off its proverbial gas pedal, powering the Nittany Lions to a ninth consecutive win at home in Beaver Stadium.

Pinning the Panthers at the 2-yard line on the opening kickoff, Tyler Davis set the tone early as the Nittany Lions swarmed Henderson at the 19-yard line.

Alongside Penn State's standout special teams display though, the Nittany Lion defense also put on a gusty showing, proved no sooner than the first five minutes as corner back Grant Haley picked off Pittsburgh quarterback Matt Browne, looking for Henderson, before weaving 42 yards to put the Penn State offense in prime position to do what it does best.

"It was kind of funny, I was late to the coverage we called, I was kind of late to break on that ball and kind of slipped on my break but the receiver stopped running for the ball and it just kind of slipped into my hands," Haley said. "It was awesome out there seeing all the other 10 guys out there trying to block for me and big man up front on the other side got my foot and stopped me around the 10-yard line."

Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley quickly found tight end Mike Gesicki wide open in the end zone for an eight-yard touchdown grab, the first of two for Gesicki in the opening half.

On the next Penn State drive, punter Blake Gillikin pinned Pittsburgh inside the 20-yard line, before Haley came through once again, with his first career sack on third-and-9 forcing a Panther punt, which DeAndre Thompkins fearlessly raced 16 yards on the return.

Even as Pittsburgh devoured the clock, Penn State's defense battled on, holding the Panthers to just a pair of field goals, with the Nittany Lions leading 28-6 following a pair of Saquon Barkley touchdowns, including a career long 46-yard touchdown reception.

"I think at the point in the game where those (field goals) happened, it was a big deal," linebacker Jason Cabinda said. "It was huge and it was really good for our momentum."

Without surrendering a Pittsburgh touchdown until nearly the midpoint of the fourth quarter, Penn State's defense piled up three of its five total sacks, with defensive end Shareef Miller accounting for two up front. 

Pittsburgh moved only as close as 14, while Penn State proved potent in the field position battle.

"Special teams, a lot of people don't understand that we have the ability to change the game," safety Nick Scott said. "Blake [Gillikin] is obviously very talented and he has been doing a great job since he got here, so we take a lot of pride in having influential plays in the game."

Gillikin placed a career-high four punts inside the 20-yard line against the Panthers, something that's only a testament to hard work he puts often when nobody is looking. 

"He's a huge asset, with his talent, he's always working on punting," Scott said. "Not just in practice, but you'll arrive early or leave late and you'll always see Blake on the field working. Same with Tyler Davis." 

For Franklin, Penn State's special teams are tracking in just the right direction, a byproduct of a significant commitment to improvement that Franklin has referenced often this season.

"We've got a two-deep on our kickoff team and our punt team right now that can run down the field and beat blocks and make plays," Franklin said. "I think obviously, you guys know how happy we were with Blake Gillikin last year, but now the combination of Blake Gillikin with our coverage team, with Tyler Davis and our coverage teams, that I think we have a chance to be really good. We've now solved the problem on punt return. We've got an explosive punt returner that people are excited now to watch and it goes hand-in-hand with how we're blocking." 

On the other side of things, as crucial as the Nittany Lion defense proved to be, there's no denying that there's still room for improvement with next weekend's Georgia State matchup now on the horizon. 

"Our defense was on the field probably too long and that's a combination of us not sustaining drives on offense but also our defense not creating enough three and outs," Franklin said.

While it may not have been perfect, Penn State's shining special teams coupled with a resilient defense gave just enough for the explosive Nittany Lion offense to do just what it needed to do to pull out a win in front of Beaver Stadium's seventh-largest crowd in history.

For Barkley though, reflecting on success in all three phrases is simply a beautiful sight to recall, like a musical, as he calls it with a laugh. 

Pittsburgh Postgame - Nittany Lions

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Fourth-ranked Penn State football pulled past Pittsburgh in a 33-14 decision featuring three touchdown passes from Nittany Lion quarterback Trace McSorley in front of more than 109,000 inside Beaver Stadium. Check in with McSorley and several other Nittany Lions for a closer look inside the win. 

QB Trace McSorley, OT Andrew Nelson

CB Grant Haley, LB Jason Cabinda

S Nick Scott

Pittsburgh Postgame - James Franklin

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Fourth-ranked Penn State football pulled past Pittsburgh in a 33-14 decision featuring three touchdown passes from Nittany Lion quarterback Trace McSorley in front of more than 109,000 inside Beaver Stadium. Go one-on-one with head coach James Franklin (and a few special guests) for a closer look at the win. 

Beaver Stadium Extra - Pittsburgh

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Go behind the scenes with Penn State Athletics on football game day for exclusive interviews and a closer look at team arrival, the "2016" unveiling and more. 

Penn State Honors 1982 National Championship Team
In a special on-field ceremony, Penn State honored members of the Nittany Lions' 1982 national championship team, celebrating the 35th anniversary of their 11-1 national title season.

Behind the Scenes with SkyCam
Fans inside Beaver Stadium see it flying across the field while those at home see its incredible views on the screen. From setup to in-game controls, go behind the scenes with SkyCam's CTO for a closer look at what goes into creating the unique views. 

Brian Gaia Highlights "2016" Unveiling
Former Nittany Lion center and 2016 team captain Brian Gaia returned to Beaver Stadium to assist with the unveiling of the "2016" on the east suites commemorating Penn State's 2016 Big Ten Championship season. 

Penn State Captains Make Special Delivery
Penn State's eight team captains made team arrival just a little bit brighter, handing out autographed footballs to a packed crowd await the Nittany Lion arrival outside Beaver Stadium. 

2017 Gameday Live - No. 4 Penn State vs. Pittsburgh

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Welcome back to our live blog coverage of the 2017 Penn State Football season. Fourth-ranked Penn State football (1-0, 0-0 B1G) returns to Beaver Stadium Saturday, hosting Pittsburgh (1-0, 0-0 ACC) in the Keystone Classic presented by Peoples Natural Gas.

Follow along with our live blog and join the conversation for in-game updates and exclusive content.  
Live Blog No. 4 Penn State vs. Pittsburgh


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