A look at James Franklin’s recruiting success at Penn State
After this weekend, Penn State and Pitt likely won’t meet again for at least another decade — and that’s something Panthers coach Pat Narduzzi doesn’t want to see.
When asked Monday afternoon if he’d prefer the two programs meet every season, the head coach replied, “Of course I do — but it doesn’t matter what I think.”
He continued: “I’m going to emphasize to our kids: You might be the last team to ever get to play this game. It might be; I don’t know when it’ll be played. I’m either going to be in a coffin or retired probably, so I don’t know which one it’ll be.”
The Panthers have reportedly tried to renew the series several times over the years, but the Nittany Lions haven’t budged. Last year, Pitt Athletic Director Heather Lyke told reporters she sent Penn State a four-year contract proposal starting in 2026, but that never came to fruition.
Penn State Athletic Director Sandy Barbour addressed the issue late last spring.
“We’ve had conversations,” Barbour said at the time. “I think at this point we’ve both agreed that based on Big Ten and ACC scheduling principles — and it’s a complicating puzzle nowadays — that we’re probably not going to do anything at this point.”
Barbour added that the rivalry might be revisited “some point after 2030.”
The Big Ten moved to a nine-game conference schedule in 2016, while the ACC still has an eight-game conference slate. Penn State would seemingly prefer to host as many home games as possible, although it will travel to Virginia Tech next season.
“I think everyone in the state of Pennsylvania that’s not sitting in a football office somewhere in the state would say, ‘Hey, why don’t we play this game?’” Narduzzi said Monday. “So I think I’ve answered that question in the past. Of course, we all want to play this game ... but it doesn’t matter.”
No. 13 Penn State (2-0) will take on Pitt (1-1) at noon Saturday at Beaver Stadium in the 100th overall meeting between the two teams. It is the final meeting of a four-year series that started in 2016.
Here are other highlights from Narduzzi’s press conference and what he said about the Nittany Lions:
(On what he said about PSU during his opening statement)
“Obviously a big game this week. We’re looking forward to heading out to Happy Valley and playing a very good football team — an explosive football team. They’re very talented up front with their front-seven. On defense, they create havoc in the backfield. Obviously, Sean Clifford is a baller, just another quarterback that they’ve developed in their system and knows what he’s doing. Got a nice arm throwing the ball all over the place. The (KJ) Hamler kid, again, I remember sitting in a tower at Michigan State watching that guy run around as a sophomore, going, ‘Holy cow, that guy’s a football player.’ He’s impressive. We’ll have to know where is all the time. They move him around quite a bit.
“So they’re explosive on offense, they’re explosive on defense. Obviously very talented — and we’ll have our hands full on Saturday at noon.”
(On how important Saturday’s game is because it’s the last scheduled game and whether it should be played every year)
“I’ll start with the second part of that question. Of course I do — but it doesn’t matter what I think. Nobody cares what I think. I think everyone in the state of Pennsylvania that’s not sitting in a football office somewhere in the state would say, ‘Hey, why don’t we play this game?’ So I think I’ve answered that question in the past.
“Of course, we all want to play this game. It’s just — it’s a close game. We’re going to jump on the bus on Friday, and it’s close enough to get on a bus. We don’t have to wait in an airport. We don’t have to go through customs. We don’t have to do anything. We don’t have to empty our pockets. We jump on a bus, and we go. So we certainly want to play that game, but it doesn’t matter.
“And it’s a big game. It’s another big game for us, but it’s a big game for us because it’s a rivalry game in-state. And I’m going to emphasize to our kids: You might be the last team to ever get to play this game. It might be; I don’t know when it’ll be played. I’m either going to be in a coffin or retired probably, so I don’t know which one it’ll be.”
(On whether he notices his team practicing or preparing differently during PSU weeks)
“I hope a little bit. Is it good, bad — are we good enough to do that? I don’t know. But it’s hard for me to look back and look. You guys want to look back sometimes during a game and say, ‘Hey, this third or fourth down, what did you do here?’ I think our guys are pretty focused this week, I really do. And you go back and watch last year’s game. At halftime, it’s a shame what the score is at halftime because we played pretty good. It only takes one of these and something happening to blow things up a little bit so, you know.”
(On how Penn State is different this year)
“Obviously, it’s the same football team. Penn State’s the same football team; it’s just different guys wearing different numbers. Maybe they’re bigger, maybe they’re faster. I don’t know. We’ll find out Saturday at noon.
“But, to me, it’s a culture they’ve built over there, offensively and defensively what they do — and special teams. They got a new special-teams coordinator. But there’s a culture with what they do and how they do it. So what I see on tape, I see a lot of. And we got years of video tape whether it’s against us or anybody else that we’ve scouted through and got thick books that big — (shows about a two-inch space between thumb and forefinger) — of really what we’re looking at here. It’s not a one-game breakdown. It’s not a five-year breakdown. It’s a three-year study going on for this game.”
(On his relationship with James Franklin)
“We vacation together. (laughter) We do; we do. James is a great guy. We go on the Nike trip every year, and I would call that a vacation. So we do vacation and socialize, but when it’s game day, it’s game day. It’s game week; it’s game week. And, we vacation together.”
(On whether comments the two coaches have made make the game any more personal)
“I’m not sure what conversations you’re talking about, to be honest with you. I don’t — I’m getting old.
(Like Franklin saying beating Pitt is like beating Akron)
“I didn’t say that. I can’t speak for him. I’ll speak for me, I guess.”
(On the environment at Beaver Stadium and how important communication/preparation for that are)
“When our offense is on the field, we’ll be on a silent count, using different signals to get the ball snapped. It’s something our offense has not prepared for this year yet. However, Saturday we’ll have to deal with the noise. That’ll be part of our cadence; that’s why those illegal procedures are out of our — we got them all done this week, so obviously there’ll be a major focus on that.
“If we had zero, we’d probably had five this weekend so I’m kind of fired up we’re able to get a win, have five problems, and there’ll be a concerted effort to make sure that doesn’t happen. But noise will be critical. We know when our offense is on the field, we’ll have that issue to deal with. So that’ll be something we’ll deal with, for sure.”
(On the challenge his offensive tackles face going against PSU DEs Yetur Gross-Matos and Shaka Toney)
“Yeah, it’ll be a challenge. It’ll be a challenge for those guys. But it’s going to be a challenge for our backs to make sure we get chips on Toney because we know he’s blazing fast. And Gross-Matos is a big, physical guy that’s got three sacks.
“So those guys, they’re good inside, too, and their front-seven is as good as you’re going to see in the country. I have no doubts about that. They’ve managed to stay healthy, that’s part of it. And they’re good football players.
(On whether PSU’s front-seven is as good as Clemson)
“I’d say those two defensive ends are pretty talented. So, again, when I say as good as anybody in the country, I’m talking top 10, they got a front-seven. I wouldn’t say — are they the best? I mean, who knows? Michael Jordan; who is the best? Who knows?