The Nittany Lions exacted any pent-up revenge from 2016, starting fast and finishing strong in a 33-14 win over Pittsburgh on Saturday at Beaver Stadium.
In front of a packed crowd of 109,898 at Beaver Stadium, Penn State used turnovers, bend-but-don’t-break defense and No. 26 to oust the Panthers.
The win extends Penn State’s series lead to 51-43-4 over Pitt.
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Saquon Barkley: After a middling second quarter and slow start to the third for the Nittany Lions, Saquon Barkley provided the cushion Penn State needed. Leading 14-3 on the 46-yard line, following a play-action fake, Barkley put a double-move on Pitt’s linebacker in coverage and was free. McSorley tossed a 16-yard pass to his wide-open running back, and the Coplay native took it 30 more yards untouched into the end zone. It was Barkley’s first significant contribution on the evening. Sure, he had runs of 11 and 17 yards to start the third quarter after tallying 22 yards on five carries in the first half, but Penn State couldn’t capitalize on the back’s initial efforts. Barkley’s 46-yard gallop — his third touchdown of the season — gave the Nittany Lions welcomed insurance. The Heisman Trophy contender, on what seemed like a quiet day, still recorded 183 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns.
Blake Gillikin’s punt: Penn State faced a 4th-and-1 on Pitt’s 46-yard line up 28-14 with six minutes to go in regulation — and James Franklin sent out the punt unit. Turns out it was the right move. Sophomore punter Blake Gillikin nailed a high kick that was downed by his teammates at the Panther 4-yard line. The Nittany Lions may have led by two scores at the time — and one could argue they had the win locked up — but forcing a slow-moving Pitt offense to go 96 yards made a comeback impossible for the Panthers.
DL Shareef Miller: The Penn State defensive end exited last week’s game against Akron and didn’t return, undoubtedly a cause for concern at the time. But Miller didn’t hold anything back on Saturday. The starting pass-rusher brought down Pitt QB Max Browne twice, the second of which forced a Pitt punt. It was an encouraging performance for the redshirt sophomore.
CB Grant Haley’s pick: Considering it happened less than two minutes into the game, some fans might not have been in their seats to see it — but Grant Haley’s interception early in the first quarter was the perfect start for Penn State. Four plays into Pitt’s opening drive, Browne lofted a dud downfield, a 20-yard floater that fell right in Haley’s bread basket. The speedy corner broke one tackle, evaded another and glided upfield 42 yards to the Panthers’ 8-yard line. Haley almost had his third touchdown with the Nittany Lions. (Remember his scoop-and-score against Ohio State last year and the pick-six against Temple in 2014?) He was stopped short, though, and McSorley finished the stellar start off with a touchdown pass to Mike Gesicki. But it was Haley’s highlight that sparked the Nittany Lions’ outstanding opening.
More Panthers: Penn State is 2-0, and after handling Pitt on Saturday, James Franklin’s focus will shift to different Panthers — Georgia State, Georgia State, Georgia State and Georgia State. And Week 3 should provide an easy win for the Nittany Lions. Georgia State became the first FBS team this season to lose to an FCS squad, falling to Tennessee State 17-10 on Aug. 31. The Sun Belt squad hasn’t played since. Next Saturday’s kick is set for 7:30 p.m.