The questions about the Penn State-Pitt rivalry, which in the moment were seemingly delivered to Nittany Lions quarterback Trace McSorley in did-you-order-the-Code-Red fashion, served a purpose.
No disrespect intended.
Same for McSorley, when he said during a conference call with reporters Tuesday morning that he doesn’t view the game as a rivalry.
In a vacuum, that might be viewed as the sort of bulletin-board (or, at least, message-board material) Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi is seeking to avoid by putting his players on media lockdown in the run-up to Saturday’s game, a noon start on ESPN that represents the schools’ first meeting since 2000.
But listen to what McSorley said, and how he said it.
“I’m not saying it’s a rivalry,” he said. “We’re treating it as the next game and we’re excited to get the Penn State-Pitt tradition going, but we’re approaching it as just the next game and it’s the most important game because of that reason.”
And again: “It’s important to this team, because it’s our next game. We treat every game as important as it is. We understand the tradition behind this game. … We understand you’ve got that tradition behind it, and we’re excited to keep that tradition going.”
And once more, when asked to compare this game to one against, say, Ohio State or Michigan: “It will be different, because I guess it does have, kind of, the in-state seal to it. It’s a huge game for the state of Pennsylvania in general. Pitt and Penn State has got that tradition behind it. … It will be big because it is an in-state game, whereas Penn State-Ohio State is a huge game, but it’s not the same in-state kind of pride that you might get from one of those games.”
So call off the Internet trolls. What he’s saying here is that he and his teammates understand the history between the two schools, but they try to approach every game the same way, a mantra of coach James Franklin since he took the job in January 2014.
McSorley amplified on that point, as did Franklin a few hours later.
“It’s a four-quarter game,” the QB said. “You want to come out with the same intensity each quarter. You don’t want to come out too high to start the game and by the second, third quarter you’re burnt out and you don’t have enough in the tank to finish out the game.”
And during his weekly conference call Franklin said, “To me, a rivalry, there is no doubt (it) is there from an historical perspective. … To me, a rivalry isn't something that you have to have a discussion about. The fans, the media, the players, the coaches, all view it that way.”
But as he noted, his players were all toddlers the last time the schools met. And as a coach he is seeking to avoid ups and downs in performance.
“We approach this like every other game on our schedule,” he said. “Keep our focus consistent. Focus on the process of being successful, not the results or not a specific type of game. 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.”
Which should settle that, but likely will not.
McSorley threw two touchdown passes in Saturday’s season-opening 33-13 victory over Kent State, the first career start for the redshirt sophomore. There was much to learn from the experience. One thing, he said, is that he will seek to slide or get out of bounds to avoid some of the killshots he took against the Golden Flashes on his 14 runs, which netted 47 yards.
He also said he wants to make the most of every opportunity, especially in the red zone.
“Probably the thing I learned the most is that you don’t get plays back, like in practice,” he said, mentioning a second-quarter underthrow to tight end Mike Gesicki in the end zone. “You miss that in practice, you just line back up until you get it right. In a game you don’t get that opportunity back. It’s just kind of lost forever. That’s probably something I took away the most: You’ve got to take advantage of each play.”
And each game. Another one is coming up Saturday. The Lions will try to view it as nothing more than the biggest one they have this week. Others will no doubt see it in a different light.null