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2016 Tuesday Press Conference Roundup - Temple

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Transcript: Franklin | Transcript: Players | Game Notes | VIDEO: Player Q&A with Trace McSorley & Christian Campbell Photo Gallery

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State Football returns home to Beaver Stadium this week, set to meet its second consecutive in-state opponent. Nittany Lion head coach James Franklin met with members of the media Tuesday to preview Saturday's Stripe Out game against Temple, which kicks off at noon on BTN.

The Nittany Lions (1-1) and the Owls (1-1) are set to meet for the 45th time in program history and the third consecutive year. This week, Franklin took time to review a few items from last week's trip to Pitt before previewing the Temple matchup.

After taking time to look back at the Pitt tape, Franklin noted that he was especially proud of the team in its efforts to battle and preserve despite the final outcome in a challenging environment.

Among items to improve this week, consistency proved to be a major theme today as the Nittany Lions begin Temple preparations. Speaking about improving consistency in different areas, Franklin stressed the focus on offense securing the ball, tackling on defense and on special teams related to kick location.

Franklin also addressed the importance of getting out to a strong start early in the game.

"I think the first week was a typical first week," Franklin said. "Last week, it was a tough environment. That stadium was rocking. There was a lot of emotion. We anticipated all of those things. We did a lot of stuff to work with noise in the stadium and I made some comments to you guys after the game about some challenges that we had, but I'm going to move on from now. We didn't handle that as well as we would have liked."

Looking toward Temple, Franklin mentioned that the Owls would bring a great opportunity for the Nittany Lions in several areas come Saturday. Led by former Nittany Lion Matt Rhule, Temple presents tough physical traits on both sides of the ball.

Franklin specifically noted the duo of Temple senior quarterback Phillip Walker and 2015 all-conference running back Jahad Thomas. Walker helped the Owls to a 7-0 start last year as the team's top signal caller and recently moved to the top of the Temple record books as the program's all-time passing leader.

"I am very impressed with their quarterback, Phillip Walker," Franklin said.  "He's a playmaker for them. [Walker] and running back Jahad [Thomas], both of those guys went to the same high school. Both are big-time players out of Elizabeth High School in New Jersey."

On The Quote Board -

- Franklin opened his press conference offering condolences to the family of Army West Point sophomore cornerback Brandon Jackson, who was passed away in a car accident Sunday. Johnson totaled seven tackles against the Nittany Lions in the 2015 meeting, registering five solo and his first career sack. 

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the Brandon Jackson family, and Army's head football coach Jeff Monken for their loss," Franklin said.

- In its second year, the Nittany Lions will host an annual Stripe Out in Beaver Stadium, encouraging fans to visit PennStateStripeOut.com to see if their section calls for blue or white attire on Saturday. 

"The Stripe Out, I think it's going to be very exciting," cornerback Christian Campbell said. "I really like our fans. I don't worry about the Stripe Out. I just worry about how many fans are at Beaver Stadium, because I really think it's so exciting. That wins us games, two. It's like a 12th man, because of the fans."

- When asked about Penn State's offensive identity, quarterback Trace McSorley spoke to his role in helping the offense become confident.

"Every time we go out, [we] feel we're going to score points, and we're going to be successful every single drive we have, and for us to kind of have that little bit of competitive edge where we're not going to accept punting the ball," McSorley said.

VIDEO: Temple Week Player Q&As

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - GoPSUSports.com talks with quarterback Trace McSorley and cornerback Christian Campbell previewing Saturday's Stripe Out in Beaver Stadium against Temple. 

Trace McSorley

Christian Campbell

Monday Notebook: Week Two Takeaways

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By Arielle Sargent, GoPSUsports.com

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State Football saw its first setback of the 2016 season on the road Saturday at Pitt. The Nittany Lions rallied with 18 points in the fourth quarter, but the comeback fell short.

Reflecting on the ups and downs in an outing where the Nittany Lions trailed by as many as 21 and narrowed the deficit to as few as four, junior tight end Mike Gesicki recapped the sideline mentality.

"We have more heart than in my three years, more than we've ever had," Gesicki said. "We're not going to give up, we're not going to quit. We're going to do whatever it takes to come back and win. We owe it to each other and we owe it to our fans, but more importantly, we put far too much time into it to go down 28-7 and say, 'Alright. See you next week.' No. That's not happening anymore. That's not Penn State, that's not who we are. For us to fight back, turn that into a game and have the ball moving down the field on that last drive and converting a fourth down, that's who Penn State is. That's who we're going to be in the future."

Among takeaways and lessons learned, senior safety Malik Golden also took time following the game to address the first bit of adversity for the Nittany Lions in 2016.

"You've got to keep coming back and fighting," Golden said. "The game is never over so I never really consider any losses. I just think you learn a lot and that's about it."

The game will continue to roll on as the Nittany Lions prepare to take what they have learned and look toward hosting their second in-state opponent, welcoming Temple to Beaver Stadium for a noon kickoff Saturday on BTN.

A few more takeaways from Pitt ...

Gillikin Continues to Shine
True freshman Blake Gillikin has continued to prove why he earned the job as Penn State's starting punter in a close preseason battle. Gillikin averaged 46.6 yards per punt on five attempts against Pitt, placing three inside the 20-yard line. In the heated Heinz Field environment, Gillikin placed his first punt from the 35-yard line during Penn State's opening drive on the Pitt one. He also added a pair of punts for at least 50 yards, including a career-long 69-yard punt to the Pitt 7-yard line in the fourth quarter. Averaging 46.8 yards per punt on the year, he enters the week ranked 10th nationally and second in the Big Ten.

Davis Extending the Streak
Heading into last week, junior kicker Tyler Davis entered Pitt game week at 10-for-10 in his career. He also entered with a 14-for-14 mark in extra point attempts for a combined 24-for-24 in field goals and PATs. He extended his streak against the Panthers, adding another field goal and four PATs to bring his combined total to 29-for-29. He's still firmly out to the best kicking start in Nittany Lion program history since at least 1970. Davis is one of 38 FBS players to top the national standings with a perfect field goal percentage in 2016. His 1.50 field goals per game average also ranks 25th nationally.

Thompkins Stepping Up
In week one we saw a glimpse of what sophomore wide receiver DeAndre Thompkins is capable of with his season-high 43-yard reception from quarterback Trace McSorley in the season opener against Kent State. Stepping into a starting role at Pitt, Thompkins led the team with 87 yards on three receptions. Two of his three receptions were for at least 30 yards, highlighting the day with a 39-yard grab in the fourth quarter that eventually led to a Penn State touchdown.

Temple Ties
The Owls are led by fourth-year head coach Matt Rhule, who guided Temple to a 10-4 record, a bowl appearance and an America Athletic Conference East Division title in 2015, marking one of the program's best seasons in history. Rhule also has close ties to Penn State, having played linebacker for the Nittany Lions from 1994-97. An Academic All-Big Ten honoree, he earned a Penn State degree in political science upon graduation.

Stripe Out
Following last year's successful turnout, Penn State is set to host its second annual "Stripe Out" game in Beaver Stadium Saturday. Fans will have the opportunity to once again find out if their seating location calls for blue or white attire. Fans can the website PennStateStripeOut.com to enter their second and find out which color to wear to the Stripe Out.  

Barkley Shows Resiliency at Pitt

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9450278.jpegBy Arielle Sargent, GoPSUsports.com

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.  - In a game filled with highs and lows, there's a lot to process from Penn State's first trip to Pittsburgh since 2000.

In front of a sold out crowd of nearly 70,000 at Heinz Stadium, the Nittany Lions lost their first game of the 2016 season, as their comeback effort fell short in a 42-39 decision.

Among high emotions and a bitter ending, it's hard not to focus on what went wrong when looking back. That's not how Penn State Football operates though, with one of the program's four core values leading off with a positive attitude.

Looking toward the positives, Penn State's Saquon Barkley stood out among a group of Nittany Lions who refused to give up in front of the city of Pittsburgh's largest crowd ever at a sporting event.

During his weekly availability, Pittsburgh head coach Pat Narduzzi named Barkley as one of the best running backs in the country, making it clear the Pitt defense would be keying in on the talented sophomore running back.

From week one to week two, Penn State head coach James Franklin was also keenly aware that no matter who the opponent, Barkley would be the focus.

"Their head coach [Pat Narduzzi] has a defensive coordinator background and they do really good on the defensive side of the ball," Franklin said early in the week leading up to the game. "His personality in my conversations with him in the past - he wants to stop the run - and obviously with Saquon Barkley that's going to be an emphasis that we're going to see every week."

Facing troublesome deficits throughout the game, Barkley stepped up on each occasion for the Nittany Lions, striking back when the Panthers scored, finishing with four rushing touchdowns and one receiving, marking his first career five touchdown outing.

"You never want to be down, but we knew we were down and it's always a fight," Barkley said.

Down but certainly not out, fight is what the Nittany Lions decided to do, with Barkley leading the way.

Barkley's 30 points are tied for fourth place in the records books and are the most since Ki-Jana Carter's 30-point outing in 1994. Logging four rushing touchdowns, he's also the first Nittany Lion to do so since Larry Johnson had four against Michigan State in 2002.

We all know the ending and while it's not reflected in the final score on the stat sheet, Barkley showcased much more than just five touchdowns - he displayed determination and fight from beginning to end.

"He had a great game," quarterback Trace McSorley said. "He ran hard and he was a warrior getting banged up on all plays. He kept pushing and fighting and was big in both the run game and the pass game. He played great."

 "I thought he battled," Franklin said. "People are going to talk about the five touchdowns. That defense, they have done a good job historically of stopping the run. I thought he battled from the beginning to the end; he ran hard."

Praise didn't only come from his teammates and coaches though, as Pitt strong safety Jordan Whitehead noted after the game that playing Barkley was among the toughest battles he's ever had.

"Going back to high school we knew each other pretty well so during the game we were battling," Whitehead said.

Ready to reset, Penn State Football turns its attention toward another in-state opponent, preparing to host Temple Saturday, Sept. 17 at noon in Beaver Stadium.

2016 Gameday Live - Penn State at Pitt

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Welcome back to our live, interactive coverage of the Penn State football season. The Nittany Lions are on the road at Pitt this week, taking on the Panthers at noon in Heinz Field. Follow along for live updates.


Live Blog Penn State Football at Pitt
 

2016 Gameday - Penn State Travels to Pitt

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Gameday Central | Game Notes | Game Blog Wednesday Practice Update | Press Conference Roundup | Terry Smith Q&A | FEATURE: Memorable Games in the Series

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - It's been 16 years since Penn State and Pitt have squared off. For the first time since 2000, the Nittany Lions are set to travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Panthers at noon on Saturday. The sold out contest will be televised on ESPN.

In the 97th all-time outing between the two teams, Penn State will hit the road for its first road trip of the 2016 season. 

With all of the excitement surrounding the revival of the most-played all-time series in program history, Penn State Football has remained steadfast in its approach to the game.

In preparing the team for the most important game of the season, Pittsburgh native and Nittany Lion cornerbacks coach Terry Smith has stressed consistency all week.

"My message was simply to find consistency in our approach to the game and find consistency in how we play come Saturday," Smith said. "There's a lot of media hype around this game and I'm just trying to deliver the message that this is the most important game because it's the next game, and that we have to come out even. You can't have rollercoaster of emotions for this game, you have to come and play with some consistency."

With such a rich tradition in the all-time series between the two teams, Nittany Lion head coach James Franklin also took time in his weekly press conference to put the series history in perspective.

"You've got to remember, I think everybody's talking about this game and the excitement of it and interest for the state and all those types of things," Franklin said.  "But you also have to remember that our players were either two, three or four years old the last time this game was played. So I think for fans and alumni, I get it. But as for our players, they don't remember this game being played."

The 2016 Nittany Lions will certainly remember this Saturday's game, as they prepare to enter a sold out Heinz Field fresh off of a 33-13 win at home against Kent State in the season opener last week.

Making his first collegiate start, quarterback Trace McSorley led Penn State to its 116th home-opening victory, tallying 209 yards and two touchdown passes, while also rushing for 47 yards.

Looking toward the Panthers, McSorley has already noted a few areas in which he plans to facilitate the offense against the Pitt defense.

"I think we'll be able to do some things with kind of letting our guys work one-one-one outside, having success that way and then using that success to help Saquon [Barkley] running the ball and helping our running backs get our run game going," McSorley said. 

Barkley was a true highlight among the Nittany Lion offense in the win against Kent State, quietly rushing for 105 yards and one touchdown for his sixth career 100-yard rushing performance. He was voted the offensive player of the week by the Nittany Lion coaching staff.

McSorley also has several options among a deep group of wide receivers including junior Chris Godwin, who caught seven passes for a team-high 67 yards against the Golden Flashes.

It was Penn State's defense that stole the show in the second half of the opener, registering six sacks to bring the Nittany Lion total to seven on the day, which stands as the highest tally since 2011.

Among the upcoming challenges for the Nittany Lion defense, Pitt running back James Conner stands out. Conner helped the Panthers to a 28-7 season opening win against Villanova with a team-high 53 yards rushing and two touchdowns.

"He's a bigger guys and he seems pretty seasoned," said sophomore defensive tackle Antoine White. "He seems like a powerful back who trusts his offensive linemen and makes good reads. He makes good decisions in the backfield, he's very elusive and he's also a power back, which is a good combination. So he's definitely a guy within their offensive system that we're going to have to respect and take notice of." 

Pregame Notes -

What to Watch For: Penn State

1. A total of eight Nittany Lions on the roster are from the Pittsburgh area, along with offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead, offensive line coach Matt Limegrover and cornerbacks coach Terry Smith. Among the newest additions to the wealth of Penn State-Pittsburgh connections on the roster, true freshman running back Miles Sanders and Pitt's senior defensive lineman Ejuan Price both attended Woodland Hills high school, where Sanders helped lead the Wolverines to an 11-1 mark and a WPIAL runner-up finish to eventual PIAA AAAA State Champion Pittsburgh Central Catholic in 2015.

2. Junior kicker Tyler Davis went 2-for-2 in field goal attempts against Kent State, bringing his career total to 10-for-10. He has also been successful on 14-of-14 extra point attempts, brining him to a combined 24-for-24 (field goals and PATs) in his kicking career. Having taken over starting place kicker duties late last year, the impressive mark tabs him the best kicking start in Nittany Lion program history since at least 1970. 

"Last year, not starting right away was kind of a blessing in disguise, although I wanted to start right away," Davis said. "Just getting the feel of how a game works and seeing how a game works and then coming in later in the season, I felt more comfortable with it. I think that has helped me a lot."

3. Expect to see more great things from the deep group in the defensive backfield as sophomore cornerback Amani Oruwariye highlighted the secondary in the Kent State opener, posting his first career pick-six in the third quarter. Junior safety Marcus Allen also added his third forced fumble of his career, while also recovering the second fumble of his career in the the second quarter.

What to Watch For: Pitt

1.  In 2014, Pitt's James Conner rushed for 1,765 yards, before a knee injury and a cancer diagnosis kept him sidelined for the 2015 season. Back for the 2016 season, Conner scored Pitt's first two touchdowns in the season opener. In speaking about Conner, Franklin had this to say about his incredible comeback:

"What a great story for the University of Pittsburgh. And I think it's a credit for the type of young man he is. Not only did he overcome a knee injury, but cancer, and he makes it back for the opening game of the season. So he's a tremendous young man, a tremendous example of college athletics and his passion for the game and his passion for his university. So awesome to see that."

2. Pitt wide receiver Quadree Henderson posted the longest kickoff return in college football's opening week with a 96-yard kick return for a touchdown at the start of the second half in the opener. Marking his second kick return touchdown, Henderson previously retuned a 100-yard kickoff in the Military Bowl against Navy in 2015.  

3. On the defensive side of things, Pitt honorable mention All-ACC cornerback Avonte Maddox led the team with three tackles for loss and two sacks in the season opener. He's joined by linebacker Mike Caprara and All-ACC defensive end Ejuan Price, who each tallied 1.5 TFLs and 1.5 sacks apiece in the opener against the Wildcats. Also add in strong safety Jordan Whitehead, who tied for first on the team with six tackles in the Villanova opener. We could also see him elsewhere on the field as Coach Smith had this to say about the consensus Freshman All-American:

"Jordan Whitehead is a big time player, clearly all the awards he won last year he has earned them and he is really good," Smith said. "We're expecting him to play on offense, we're expecting them [Pittsburgh] to use him on jet sweeps, maybe a couple trick plays, some swing routes to get the ball out into the open space because he's dynamic. So we're preparing all of those things. He's a terrific athlete and we're looking forward to trying to defend him and slow him down once he gets on offense."

Final Note -

The in-state opponents just keep on coming for the Nittany Lions as they return home next week to host Temple Saturday, Sept. 17 at Beaver Stadium. Prior to this Saturday's trip to Pitt, Penn State owns a combined 89-46-5 record against the other two current FBS Pennsylvania schools (Temple, Pitt). The 89 wins also accounts for 10. 4 percent of Penn State's 857 all-time wins.


Pitt Q&A - Terry Smith

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Q: In talking with the team this week what message did you get a chance to pass along and what does this game being back on the schedule mean to you?

Smith: My message was simply to find consistency in our approach to the game and find consistency in how we play come Saturday. There's a lot of media hype around this game and just trying to deliver the message that this is the most important game because it's the next game and that we have to come out even. You can't have rollercoaster of emotions for this game, you have to come and play with some consistency.

Q: Now that you're coaching this team instead of playing, how does your experience differ and can you take us back a little bit to what your experience was like back during this particular game week?

Smith: As a coach it's always different than being a player because as a player, you're in control of the play, you're in control of what actually happens on the field. As a coach, you're kind of at the mercy of your players doing as you asked them to prepare all week. So that's different. This week it's an exciting week, it's nice to be a part of a game that's exciting and has a lot of media and fanfare. It's going to be a sold out crowd at Heinz field so it's exciting, it's fun. I can remember growing up, watching this game and all of the greats that played at Pitt and the greats that played at Penn State before us and it's exciting. It's nice to play them again.

Q: Brandon Bell said you took some pride in going 3-1 against Pitt, how did you convey that message to the players about how important that was to you back then?

Smith: Well I just tried to relay the message that while you're in the present and you're on this current football team and you're given the opportunity to go out against an opponent, take advantage of it, because just like how our players come to us from high school, they have bragging rights whether you beat one of your teammates.

We all know people from Pittsburgh. I'm from Pittsburgh so I know just about everyone down there, so you want to have an advantage. Playing career-wise, when I was on the field, it was that I was 3-1 against Pitt.

Q: Beyond the wins, what do you remember most about the wins and playing that series? What still sticks with you years later?

Smith: The hype, just like it is this week. The hype, the excitement - it's a great atmosphere, it's exciting and it's great for our players and the state of Pennsylvania. So there's a lot of hype around it and we're excited and it creates an atmosphere where our players are excited and want to play and be a part of this.

 Q: I know the players don't look at this as a rivalry because a lot them were so young the last time these two teams played, but you played here shortly after the hay day so is this still a rivalry for you personally? How do you look at that?

Smith: We look at it as it's the next game up on the schedule. One thing that Coach Franklin drives home to us is that the next game is the most important game so last week when we were playing Kent State we couldn't mention Pitt. We weren't preparing for Pitt and anything Pitt was off limits. So we prepare for the next opponent and this is the biggest game of the season because it's the current game and our message to our guys is again, to find consistency. Let's improve upon last week and let's go out and try a perfect football game.

Q: Have you talked to or heard from any of players on the roster from Pittsburgh or have you talked to [Matt] Limegrover or [Joe] Moorhead about how they're feeling about the game and being able to go play in front of their hometown?

Smith: Yes, we talk often. Coach Limegrover and myself will be in Pittsburgh recruiting tomorrow. We're from there so we've been addressing our players and letting them know that there's a lot of hype in this game and the city of Pittsburgh is wanting to represent themselves and the city of Pittsburgh. Our fans are going to show up and we're going to leave all of our efforts on the field.

Q: What are the advantages for you to be able to go on the road a day early and recruit, especially since it's an in-state game?

Smith: it's not an advantage for the game and I don't know if it's an advantage, it's more of a convenience. Often times we go on the road and recruit and it's tough trying to get back to State College or wherever our game is that evening before a game, especially before a noon kickoff. So it's a lot more convenient to go into Pittsburgh and recruit and just go right to the hotel and not have to worry about catching a flight halfway across the country or having to drive through the night to get back. Of course it's very convenient and obviously Pittsburgh is an important area for us to recruit there and we just want to make sure our presence is felt.

Q: There has been a lot of talk this week about Pitt's Jordan Whitehead, what kind of a threat or an advantage for a team might he pose?

Smith: Jordan Whitehead is a big time player, clearly all the awards he won last year he has earned them and he is really good. We're expecting him to play on offense, we're expecting them [Pittsburgh] to use him on jet sweeps, maybe a couple trick plays, some swing routes to get the ball out into the open space because he's dynamic. So we're preparing all of those things. We're preparing for him because if he was on our team we'd probably be using him the same way. He's a terrific athlete and we're looking forward to trying to defend him and slow him down once he gets on offense.

Q: How tough is it to prepare for an offense when it looks like they didn't show a whole lot in their opener against Villanova and you have some new people over there obviously.

Smith: You do a lot of your film study based on the coordinator's history. We know he came from North Carolina State and Wisconsin, so you do a lot of film study on those years. We as coaches, are who we are, and when you look at his history and the first game, he's pretty consistent to who he is so we prepare for that. We know what we're going to get so we just have to go out there and stop it.

Q: How are feeling about your depth right now at your positions, especially with Christian [Campbell] and Amani [Oruwariye]?

Smith: We have tremendous depth at the corner position. We have four quality guys who I think are all playing at a really high level. We're really pleased with their progress. I'm excited for the challenge this weekend for those guys. All four of them are going to play a lot football so I'm excited, it's a great group of guys. There's tremendous competition in my room to determine who the one is through the four. It's a good situation for us.

VIDEO: Practice Updates - Pitt

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State head coach James Franklin and senior linebacker Brandon Bell took time to meet with members of the media following Wednesday's practice.

Penn State hits the road this week, traveling to Pitt to take on the Panthers Saturday, Sept. 10 at noon in Heinz Field. Check in with Franklin and Bell for a few updates on practice this week. 

James Franklin


Brandon Bell

Penn State & Pitt: A Closer Look at Memorable Games the Series

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By Arielle Sargent, GoPSUsports.com

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.  - With the 97th meeting between Penn State and Pittsburgh just days away, a quick scan of the Nittany Lion record book certainly does not do justice to the rich tradition between the two in-state opponents.

In the most-played all-time series in program history, Penn State and Pittsburgh met for the first time in 1893.

For perspective, in the same year that the Nittany Lions and the Panthers kicked off for the first time in Happy Valley, boxers Andy Bowen and Jack Burke fought for seven hours and 19 minutes to no decision for more than 100 rounds.

In that first meeting between the two teams, Penn State shut out Pitt 32-0, under the direction of George "Doc" Hoskins, Penn State Football's first coach in program history.

Ninety-five games later, the Nittany Lions and the Panthers will meet Saturday in Pittsburgh to reopen a series that's been dormant for 16 years.

In his weekly press conference, Nittany Lion head coach James Franklin pointed out one particular note ahead of Saturday's game.

"One of the things that I thought was really interesting that I didn't know, 68 of the 96 games have been played in Pittsburgh," Franklin said. "Completely skewed that way, which I just thought was an interesting stat."

An interesting stat for sure, as taking a closer look at the numbers in the series reveals that Penn State played Pittsburgh on the road in consecutive seasons from 1903 to 1930, a total of 28 road games for the Nittany Lions against the Panthers. Penn State and Pitt met yearly from 1900 to 1931.

Penn State and Pitt also met regularly from 1935 to 1992, playing 37 of the 58 outings in the span on the road.

The first time Penn State and Pittsburgh met on the road dates back to 1903, when the Nittany Lions entered the matchup with wins against Pitt in each of the five previous outings. The Nittany Lions defeated the Panthers 59-0, which stands as the largest margin of victory against Pitt in the series - which was nearly topped by a 65-8 win in 1968, on the road.

Flash forward to 1919, Penn State's 17th-straight road game at Pitt where the Nittany Lions had not won a game against the Panthers in a span of six consecutive years.  In front of a crowd of 40,000, a Hugo Bezdek-led Nittany Lion team jumped out to an early lead and never looked back, thanks to a fake punt play that turned into a 92-yard pass reception by All-American Bob Higgins from quarterback Bill Hess. The play still stands as the longest pass play in Penn State Football history.

Moving further along in the series, Penn State and Pitt fans had become accustomed to an annual November matchup against the two teams, usually falling on or around Thanksgiving Day. Penn State's Nov. 23, 1963 game against the Panthers was postponed though, as it was scheduled the day after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.

The matchup was re-scheduled for December 7 and Penn State entered its season finale up against a Pittsburgh team that was ranked fifth nationally and considered by many as one of the best teams in Pitt history. Despite a closely contested game, Pitt quarterback Fred Mazurek put together a fourth quarter drive that sent the Panthers ahead, 22-21. On the final opportunity for the Nittany Lions, a missed a field goal ended the game giving Pitt the victory.

Nearly 20 years later, we arrive at Nov. 28, 1981, which is regarded by many as one of the most memorable games between the two teams in the 123-year history of the series.

To set the scene, the No. 11 ranked Nittany Lions entered the regular season finale at 8-2, set to meet the top-ranked, undefeated Panthers on the road at Pitt Stadium. The Panthers boasted an impressive defense that ranked atop the nation's best in rushing defense.

Led by All-American quarterback Dan Marino, Pitt opened the game with a pair of touchdowns in the first quarter to pull ahead 14-0, holding Penn State to minus four yards gained in the opening frame. By the second quarter, it was Nittany Lions quarterback Todd Blackledge and Penn State's Roger Jackson's end zone-interception that sparked one of the most storied comebacks in program history.

Blackledge's touchdown connections with tight end Mike McCloskey and All-American wide receiver Kenny Jackson tied the score at 14-14 by the end of the first half. Capitalizing on Pitt miscues, the Nittany Lions rolled to a 48-14 final decision, capped off by All-American safety Mark Robinson's pick-six off of a Marino pass for a 91-yard touchdown return in the final quarter. Robinson even lost his shoe during the 91-yard return, which stands as the third-longest interception return in Penn State Football program history.

We'd also be remiss if we didn't reach out to Penn State Football historian Lou Prato for a few extra games of note in the series.

Nov. 26, 1908 - While a 12-6 win on the road in Pittsburgh is not all that significant, what is significant is that it marked the first game the Nittany Lions wore numbers on their jerseys in a game. Pitt and Washington & Jefferson were among the first two teams in college football to start wearing numbers and Penn State joined the group for the annual Thanksgiving Day game on the road at Exposition Park, which no longer exists.

Dec. 2, 1950 - This game was originally scheduled to be played at Pitt Saturday, Nov. 25, but when the team arrived on Friday, a snowstorm struck the area, brining all operations to a halt. With 23 inches of snow on the ground, the Nittany Lions left Pittsburgh on Monday, Nov. 27 via Army trucks to begin the process of traveling back to Happy Valley.  The Nittany Lions and the Panthers eventually rescheduled for December 2, playing at Forbes Field with Penn State holding on for a 21-20 victory after the Pitt kicker missed his second PAT attempt, having to re-kick after a penalty for 12 men on the field.

Nov. 19, 1983 - Penn State fans were stunned when Pitt fans took to the field to celebrate a 24-21 win on the road in Pittsburgh. They were stunned because just three plays prior to the celebration, with 19 seconds on the clock, Penn State was called for a false start and six seconds slipped away. Those six seconds needed to get back on the clock, but it wasn't until everyone was gathered back following the celebration that the officials informed both head coaches that the scoreboard clock could not be turned backward, but six seconds would still be played. The result ended up being a Nittany Lion field goal that tied the score 24-24, marking Joe Paterno's first tie since the 17-17 final score against Florida State in the 1967 Gator Bowl. 

VIDEO: Pitt Week Player Q&As

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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - GoPSUSports.com talks with wide receiver Chris Godwin and corner back Grant Haley ahead of Saturday's Penn State-Pittsburgh matchup on the road at Heinz Field.

Grant Haley

Chris Godwin
 
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