Penn State Football

How did Penn State power past Pitt? It all started with this play

Penn State players celebrate defeating Pitt 51-6 Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018 at Heinz Field.
Penn State players celebrate defeating Pitt 51-6 Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018 at Heinz Field. psheehan@centredaily.com

Immediately, minutes following every Penn State game, we’ll take a closer look at the turning point to each game. You can find our more in-depth stories after speaking with coaches and players on centredaily.com

Penn State tried to take Saturday night’s game time and time again in the first half.

But, in the end, Pitt just decided to gift it away.

The theme to Penn State’s 51-6 victory involved inexcusable mistakes and a new height of sloppiness. But there was one play that stood above the others, one single play that changed the entire face of the game — and that was the Nittany Lions’ “punt fumble” recovery toward the end of the first half.

On that play, on fourth-and-6 with 1:07 left to play in the first half, Pitt lined up for a punt and hoped it would head into halftime with a 7-6 deficit. But, unfortunately for Pitt, the Panthers’ punter had other ideas.

With the rain slowing down, the snap came out fast and looked a little off-right but still OK. But redshirt freshman punter Kirk Christodoulou couldn’t handle it. He dropped the ball, picked it up and tried to get the punt off — but couldn’t. Linebacker Micah Parsons came around the corner and met Christodoulou as soon as he hesitated.

Fellow linebacker Jarvis Miller jumped on the ball. It wasn’t officially a punt block, but it might as well have been. As it was, Miller was credited with a tackle-for-loss and Christodoulou with a seven-yard rushing loss.

You probably know what happened next. The Nittany Lions took over on the Pitt 35-yard line and scored a touchdown three plays later to boost the halftime lead to 14-6.

That gave Penn State all the momentum it needed in the locker room, and it completely deflated Pitt. The mistakes continued for the Panthers, the Nittany Lions continued to capitalize, and that combination played on loop for the next 30 minutes.

James Franklin’s crew ended up winning big. But that all really started with the “punt fumble recovery.”

If there was a singular turning point to Saturday night’s game, the 99th meeting between the two rivals, that was it. And it’s something Pitt fans won’t be able to shake for another 370 days, until the 100th meeting.

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