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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.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State head coach James Franklin met with members of the media Tuesday afternoon to recap the 2016 opener and preview the upcoming matchup between the Nittany Lions and Pittsburgh. Penn State hits the road for its first road trip of the season, traveling to Steel City to take on the Panthers Saturday, Sept. 10 at Heinz Field.
Meeting for the 97th time in program history, the series with the Panthers is among the longest in program history, dating back to the first meeting between the two teams in 1893. Noting the rich history and the significance of the series, Franklin stressed that amidst the excitement, the focus is approaching week two the same as any other week.
"For us, focus on the process of being successful, not the results or not a specific type of game," Franklin said. "And our guys are excited about it. But I think everybody understands the significance of it. We've been hearing about it all off-season. There is no doubt about it. But our approach is consistent week in and week out."
Opening his weekly press conference with a quick Kent State review, Franklin highlighted success both defensively and on the special teams unit. Pointing out the high points, Franklin also looked toward some areas of improvement. Among the praise for special teams, Franklin highlighted junior Tyler Davis, who was 2-for-2 on field goal attempts against the Golden Flashes, moving him to 10-for-10 in his career.
"And a guy who probably doesn't get enough credit, Tyler Davis, I think is 10 for 10 now on field goals," Franklin said. "He has done a nice job there."
Davis was among the Penn State coaching staff's player of the week honorable mention picks for special teams. Franklin also highlighted running back Saquon Barkley as the staff's offensive pick and junior defensive end Garrett Sickels on the defensive side. The coaching staff also had honorable mention weekly accolades for sophomore cornerback Amani Oruwariye, redshirt freshman defensive end Shareef Miller, sophomore kicker Joe Julius and junior kicker Tyler Davis.
On the offensive side of the things, junior Chris Godwin got a chance to address a question about his connection at wide receiver with quarterback Trace McSorley, who felt confident in being able to rely on his outside receivers.
"It's awesome knowing that your quarterback believes in you and with the weapons that we have in our receiver group as deep as we are, it's something that we're pretty confident in, as well," Godwin said. "At the same time it didn't happen overnight. It took a lot of time to build that rapport with Trace over the course of the off-season. So getting to where we're at now and obviously we still have a lot of room to grow, but we're looking forward to that growth."
Penn State and Pitt kickoff at noon from a sold out Heinz Field on ESPN with Bob Wischusen (play-by-play) and Brock Huard (color commentary) and Allison Williams (sideline) on the call.
On The Quote Board -
- Penn State fans were treated to a glimpse at some of the depth of the Nittany Lion secondary in Saturday's win against Kent State. Something Coach Franklin was pleased with all preseason, several Nittany Lions got a chance to shine including Amani Oruwariye's pick-six.
"I think having four or five corners that play - I think we played about eight or nine DBs the whole game - having that depth keeps everyone fresh and can keep the number of reps down," Grant Haley said. "So just having that depth...we're a young group, but the experience in there, not true freshmen, with red-shirt freshman and sophomores and even guys like Malik [Golden] and Marcus [Allen] playing a lot. I think that's helped us from the experience and leadership standpoint, as well."
- Four of Penn State's eight plays in its second to last drive were pass plays from McSorley, which ended with a 30-yard completion to Mike Gesicki for a touchdown. When asked about Gesicki's touchdown Godwin had this to say:
"As Coach Moorhead likes to say, 'we're always going to attack' we're not going to be on the passive end of things. No matter what point of the game it is; we're going to keep attacking," Goodwin said. "That was evidence of that. It was awesome to see Mike get that touchdown. Regardless of who makes the play, we're all in it together."
By Arielle Sargent, GoPSUsports.com
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -
Penn State Football showed signs of both potential and promise in its 2016
season opening win against Kent State. Even with a wealth of positives, the
Nittany Lions are keenly aware of some areas for improvement.
"Overall I think there are some really good things to build off of, but we have a lot of things we need to get cleaned up," Franklin said. "I know people say we have a big game coming up this week so we'll look at this past week and learn from that and move on to the next one."
Before getting into the week ahead, let's take a look at some of the positives from Saturday's fifth consecutive win over the Golden Flashes.
Six Nittany Lions earned their first career start against Kent State, with one of those starters being true freshman Blake Gillikin. Gillikin is the third true freshman starting punter for PSU since 1946 and made his debut averaging 47.0 yards on the day, which is fourth among freshmen in Penn State history and tops among true freshmen. His punting average ranks him ninth nationally and first in the Big Ten after week one.
With the top punting job closely contested all throughout camp, Franklin noted after the game that there's still room for Gillikin to improve.
"I went to him right when we start our typical warmups when we do a sky punt and he knocked it about 12 yards out of the endzone," Franklin said. "I said to him that his legs were a little live today and he was excited about the game so just to make sure he understood that."
Under the Radar
Sophomore John Reid made a statement when called upon at punt returner in Saturday's win. Across four attempts against Kent State, Reid highlighted the evening with a 21-yard haul on a punt return in the third quarter for a career-high mark. Franklin praised Reid's strength and ability following the game, mentioning that it was late last week that the staff became confident in their decision to put him at punt returner.
"He always caught the ball but his fundamentals early on weren't great," Franklin said. "As you know John, he is the type of guy once you decide to make him the punt returner, he's going to stay out there after practice on his own with managers and [Jordan] Wombacker, one of our punters, and get in a bunch of work. He's done that and I think he has the chance to be a weapon for us down the road."
Success in the
While sophomore Amani Oruwariye's interception for a 30-yard touchdown return certainly shined a light on the depth in the secondary, junior Marcus Allen also came through in the clutch. Allen forced the third fumble of his career and recorded the second recovery of his career in the second quarter to swing the momentum in favor of the Nittany Lions, who were tied at 6-6 at the time of Allen's impact play.
"I mentioned to you guys all summer that we felt really good about our back seven with our linebackers and defensive backs," Franklin said. "I thought Marcus Allen played really well, I thought John Reid played really well and obviously Amani [Oruwariye] made a big play for us."
Saquon being Saquon
Penn State rushed for 145 yards in Saturday's win, with 105 of those yards coming from sophomore Saquon Barkley. Notching his sixth career 100-yard rushing game and eighth career rushing touchdown, one might think the tale of the box score has Barkley pretty pleased.
"I felt like it was half of what we are capable of doing," Barkley said, reflecting on the overall offensive performance. "We were still capable of having 33 points on the board, but we left about 21 out there."
Looking toward next week, the Nittany Lions will renew a long standing series with the Panthers on the road in the Keystone Classic presented by People's Natural Gas. Having met regularly from 1900-31 and 1935-92, Penn State and Pittsburgh will square off for the first time since 2000 - in the 97th outing between the two teams.
As the Nittany Lions prepare to renew the series, there's no shortage of hometown connections. For starters, Penn State has eight Nittany Lions from the Pittsburgh area on its roster.
On the staff side of things, offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead, who is also from the area, served as a graduate assistant for the Panthers from 1998-99. Offensive line coach Matt Limegrover is also from Pittsburgh and assistant head coach and cornerback's head coach Terry M. Smith is from nearby Aliquippa, Pennsylvania.
Nittany Lion junior cornerback Grant Haley's parents also met attending Pittsburgh's School of Medicine. Haley's mother, Carla Neal-Haley, attended Penn State and was a member of the track and field team.
By Arielle Sargent, GoPSUsports.com
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Exactly a month ago today, Brent Pry took the podium for his first Media Day session in his new role as defensive coordinator for the Nittany Lions.
The very first question? What was his plan to adjust to the departures of four defensive linemen heading to NFL? Among those four are defensive tackle Austin Johnson, defensive end Carl Nassib and defensive tackle Anthony Zettel, who all had standout careers in the Blue and White that ended in 2015. Defensive tackle Tarow Barney was also a solid contributor for the Nittany Lions.
The departures were no reason to be concerned for Pry, who mentioned that it wasn't the first time he he has dealt with good players leaving. While not always leaving for the NFL, Pry addressed a room full of media members with some of his own perspective.
"There's talent. There's just not a lot of experience," Pry said. "There are young guys, highly recruited. There are old heads that just haven't played a lot because they've played behind those [NFL] guys. I think we've got great depth. It's unproven depth, but the roster in that unit right now looks better than it has since we've been here."
That collection of talent featuring young and familiar faces making up the "unproven depth," finally got its chance to make an impact as the Nittany Lions opened the season Saturday with a 33-13 win against Kent State in Beaver Stadium.
Six Nittany Lions earned their first collegiate start against the Golden Flashes. Half of that number came from the defensive line with junior Parker Cothren, senior Evan Schwan and redshirt freshman Kevin Givens all lining up on the front four. Joining the new guys were familiar faces in juniors Garrett Sickels, (DE) and Jason Cabinda (MLB) and seniors Brandon Bell (SAM) and Nyeem Wartman-White (WILL), who returned after missing the 2015 season due to an injury.
Leading 16-13 at halftime, it was the starters who held it together, with Bell leading the way with five tackles, Wartman-White and Sickels combining for a sack and Schwan posting one tackle for a loss of three yards.
The show began in the second half.
"The end of the second quarter felt like one of those things where you saw glimpses of it, but it was never really transferring into continuing momentum," Sickels said. "At the start of the third quarter, we started making plays left and right and everyone could just feel it."
On Kent State's first drive, sophomore cornerback Amani Oruwariye caught a pick-six and returned it 30 yards for Penn State's first interception return for a touchdown since 2014.
On the next drive, freshman Shareef Miller, one of 19 players to make their first career appearances, sacked Kent State quarterback Justin Agner for a loss of 10 yards. Miller finished with 1.5 sacks and a career-high five tackles.
Two drives later, Bell grabbed his third career interception on the Penn State 13.
"The ball came up on me hot," Bell said. "I turned my head around and it was in my face. It caught me off guard but I was lucky enough to catch it."
Holding Kent State without a score in the second half, Penn State logged six sacks, most of which came from the depth on the bench. Sophomore Antoine White and redshirt freshman Ryan Buchholz combined for 2.5 sacks for a loss of 17 yards. White closed out the day with a career-high five tackles, while Buchholz's one sack was the first of his career.
The Nittany Lions totaled seven sacks in the win against the Golden Flashes, marking the most since recording seven at Northwestern in 2011. The new-look defensive line accounted for six of those seven sacks.
Buchholz, junior Tyrell Chavis (DT), redshirt freshman Ryan Monk (DT) and redshirt freshman Robert Windsor (DT) were also among the group of 19 Nittany Lions to make their first career appearances, all rotating in on the defensive line.
"Sometimes we didn't capitalize on our opportunities and other times we did," Sickels said, reflecting back on the much improved second half. "During the off-season I took it very personally when people were saying that I played in the shadows and what are we going to do without AJ (Austin Johnson) and Tarow (Barney), but seeing everyone help out today really made me proud to be the head of that field."
The new Nittany Lion defensive line has certainly emerged, with a new look, but one that has potential. Each year is always a little different but with the first win out of the way, Penn State's defensive line is poised to continue to showcase its new personality this year.
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The 130th season of Penn State Football has finally arrived and the Nittany Lions are set to welcome Kent State to Beaver Stadium Saturday for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff on BTN.
Opening the season at home for the first time since 2012, the Nittany Lions and the Golden Flashes meet for the first time since 2013. In that 2013 outing, Penn State shut out Kent State 34-0 at home in Beaver Stadium on Sept. 21 for its fourth consecutive victory in the series.
"The focus has been on this week and doing everything we possibly can to get ready for it," head coach James Franklin said. "I know the assistant coaches and the players are really excited about the opportunity to go out and show our fans and the alumni what we're about."
The Nittany Lions enter the 2016 season with 16 returning starters, with three on special teams, five on defense and eight on offense, including an offensive line that is the 17th most experienced unit in the country and second-most experienced in the Big Ten.
Leading the offense this year is sophomore Trace McSorley, who steps into the starting role at quarterback for the first time against Kent State. With a newly implemented offense under the direction of offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead, McSorley's options including seemingly endless potential.
Freshman All-American Saquon Barkley returns to lead running back unit that's packed with potential. Barkley led the offense with 1,076 rushing yards in 11 games to set a Penn State freshman record. Despite missing a few games last year, Barkley totaled five 100-yard rushing performances, en route to becoming the 43rd Nittany Lion in program history to break 1,000 yards rushing.
The Nittany Lions also return a stacked group at wide receiver, led by All-Big Ten second team selection Chris Godwin and All-Big Ten honorable mention DaeSean Hamilton. Godwin caught at least four passes in 11 of 13 games last year and became just the third Nittany Lion in program history to total 1,000 receiving yards in a season.
Surpassing the 1,000-yard mark in each of their positions, Barkley and Godwin are just the third other duo in program history to achieve the feat.
Fourth-year head coach Paul Haynes will lead the Golden Flashes in their season opener, taking on Penn State for the second time during his tenure at Kent State. The Golden Flashes return nearly all of their starters from last year, including eight from a defense that ranked 27th in total defense last year.
Pregame Notes -
What to Watch For:
1. While there's certainly buzz and excitement this year surrounding the new up-tempo offense, Franklin says he's just as excited about the special teams unit as he is about the offense. Listed on the depth chart this week, the Nittany Lions have true freshman Blake Gillikin at punter, with Tyler Davis listed as the top kicker. Redshirt sophomore Nick Scott and Barkley are listed as the top two kick returners, while senior Gregg Garrity and Thompkins will handle the punt returns.
"I'd probably say the best thing that happened to our special teams this summer was signing the two younger guys," special teams coordinator and running backs coach Charles Huff said. "Not from a, 'hey they are going to come in and be the starter and carry coach off the field winning a national championship,' but it was more from a pure competition standpoint. Every day those guys are having to go out and compete"
2. Under the direction of defensive coordinator Brent Pry, who was promoted following the 2015 season, the Nittany Lion defense has a fairly new look this year, especially in the front seven. Despite some NFL departures last season, the defensive line has not rebuilt, but rather reloaded. Garrett Sickels, the only returning starter, will look to make another sizeable impact, along with senior Evan Schwan at defense end. Parker Cothren and Kevin Givens will both take over at the tackle position. Jason Cabinda and Nyeem Wartman-White highlight the line at the middle and weak side linebacker positions, respectively.
Franklin made special note of Schwan earlier this week saying, "We're excited, the fact that we have a senior, which we have a few on our team, stepping up on the defensive line for us. We're expecting good things out of Evan. I've just been very, very pleased and proud of him with how he's approached everything; his leadership, his understanding everything. He's put in five years waiting for this opportunity and really approached it the right way."
What to Watch For:
1. Kent State returns nearly all of its starters from last year, including defensive end Nate Holley, who has ranked in the nation's top five in tackles per game in 2014 and 2015, with 14 or more tackles in six of his last nine games. Holley is just one of three All-Mid-American Conference first team members on defense, set to be led by newly appointed defensive coordinator Ben Needham. Promoted from linebackers coach to DC during the offseason, Needham is the youngest defensive coordinator (31) in the FBS.
2. Haynes said earlier this week that Kent State plans to play three quarterbacks on Saturday, naming true freshman Justin Agner as the starter. Other quarterback options include redshirt freshman Mylik Mitchell and sophomore George Bollas. Bollas played in 12 games last year, making 94 completions on 167 attempts for 756 yards.
After three seasons at quarterback, including the 2013 meeting between Penn State and Kent State, Colin Reardon moved to wide receiver in the spring. Listed at the top spots at wide receiver for the Golden Flashes are junior Kris White, sophomore Johnny Woods and junior Nick Holley, who is the twin brother of defensive end, Nate Holley.
Final Note -
The 2016 Penn State home opener against Kent State marks the first of four consecutive season openers for the Nittany Lions. Penn State will be at home against Akron in 2017, Appalachian State in 2018 and Idaho in 2019. Having won 12 of their last 14 season openers, the Nittany Lions are 115-13-1 all-time and 47-9 in Beaver Stadium. Kickoff in Beaver Stadium is set for 3:30 live on the Big Ten Network with Scott Graham (play-by-play) and Chuck Long (analyst) on the call.
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