In the newest installment of the Penn State-Pitt rivalry, one of the series’ storied figures will be attendance — and in the broadcast booth.
Former Nittany Lions quarterback Todd Blackledge is set to provide color commentary on Saturday, joining Joe Tessitore for ABC’s coverage of the game.
Of course, Blackledge is familiar with Pitt. He led Penn State to its memorable 48-14 upset of the No. 1 Panthers in 1981 and guided the Nittany Lions past them in 1982 en route to a national title.
But after calling the Arkansas-TCU game in 2016, Blackledge will see a Penn State-Pitt game live and in-person for the first time in a long time.
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We caught up with the former Penn State quarterback about this weekend’s edition of the rivalry.
Q: What do you think Penn State learned in last season’s loss to Pitt that’ll help the Nittany Lions this go-around on Saturday?
A: I think probably the biggest thing that they learned was just how important of a game it is. I don’t know what their mindset was going in, so I’m not suggesting that they didn’t think it was big game or didn’t think it was a big rivalry. But the fact is, now that the game has been played every year the way it used to be, it’s a very big deal to people in Pittsburgh and people a part of the University of Pittsburgh. I think that game felt big. I remember watching; I don’t even remember where I was doing my game, but I remember watching the game and it had a big-time feel to it. It was exciting and very fun to watch. It was a great comeback by Penn State but, you know if anything, in a rivalry game you can expect anything. But for sure, you’ve gotta expect that that other team is going to bring it when you play that kind of a game.
Q: James Franklin really has not used the word ‘rivalry’ to describe the game. But it is important to alumni, fans and lettermen. What are your thoughts on Franklin’s stance there, and do you think beating Pitt would or could change the coach’s tune on the game?
A: Well, I think coaches all have their own approach, and I respect that. Different guys do it different ways. On one hand, it’s only one game and it’s not going to determine your season. It’s not a Big Ten game, so it doesn’t carry as much weight or as many ramifications as a big conference game. But on the other hand, you can’t really deny that there’s interest. It’s unique because there are two teams from the same state. You’re vying for a lot of the same kids in recruiting. Your fanbases are familiar. Even though, again, it’s not a game that’s played every year like Florida-Florida State or Alabama-Auburn or some other cross-sectional games like Clemson-South Carolina, that’s the kind of game it is. There’s passion involved. It makes it different than any normal nonconference game.
Q: Final question: Knowing Pitt’s defense and how things shook out in 2016, what do you think is more likely for Saturday: Is it a Trace McSorley game or a Saquon Barkley game?
A: I think that if I were Pitt defensively, you have to kind of pick one to not allow to beat you. With those two guys, it’s difficult. But if I’m Pitt, I don’t want Barkley to beat us. I want to try to tackle him, get him on the ground and limit what he does the best that we can. If we can force Trace into running the ball some, you’ve got a chance. He’s not as dangerous of a runner as Barkley. We have a chance to hit when he’s running. But their weakness and Achilles’ heel a year ago was their pass defense. You know, Trace is a very confident quarterback in terms of throwing the ball down the field. In one sense, it’s picking your poison. But I think you have to identify one and say, ‘We can’t let this guy beat us.’ If I was betting on it, I’d say their approach has to be not letting Barkley beat us.