PITTSBURGH — Talk about mixed feelings.
Penn State’s 42-39 loss to Pitt at Heinz Field here Saturday featured some absolutely abysmal play by the Nittany Lions. We’ll name names later, but for now realize that PSU:
• Gave up 341 net rushing yards while registering zero sacks. And spent parts of the day tackling like this was a flag football game.
• Fumbled five … count ‘em, five … times (losing three). This to go along with an implausible interception that basically ended the game.
• Gave up four sacks.
• Allowed an explosive kick return man (for whom they had specifically prepared) to pop an 84-yarder at the worst possible moment.
• Allowed the Panthers to build a better than 10-minute edge in time of possession.
And yet somehow, all of that was NEARLY offset by some very impressive stuff. Consider that PSU:
• Cut a lead that was one 21 points (28-7) to three at the end. And never lost its cool on a blistering hot day that featured the largest crowd (69,983) ever to see a home Pitt sporting event.
• Completed 24 of 35 passes for 332 yards and a score.
• Saw its starting running back score five touchdowns
We turned to RB Saquon Barkley, he of the five TDs, for some clarity on it all.
“We’re upset that we lost the game,” he said. “… We’ve just got to eliminate the turnovers — including myself — and (missed assignments). But just the dog in us and the way we kept fighting and didn’t quit, (it) shows our character.”
Here is our take on the game.
MAN OF THE HOUR
Barkley was the clear focal point of the Pitt defense, yet still rushed for 85 yards and four scores on 20 carries. He also caught a pass and then ran 45 yards for a TD. He did, however, have one lost fumble.
WR DaeSean Hamilton stepped up with eight catches for 82 yards and a clutch two-point conversion late.
Rookie P Blake Gilikin was outstanding again. He averaged 46.6 yards per boot and had three downed inside the 20-yard line — including one at the 1. Pitt had one punt return yard in the game.
QB Trace McSorley personified PSU’s afternoon, throwing for 332 yards and helping to will the Lions back in it. But … he had three turnovers — two fumbles and a pick. And the interception was the ultimate turning point. With State driving late and having a chance to tie or take the lead, McSorley threw a risky pass into the end zone. It was intercepted by CB Ryan Lewis to effectively end the game. This team can be good with McSorley at the helm. But only if he makes better decisions throughout the game.
Pitt QB Nathan Peterman only threw 15 passes in the game, completing 11. He was particularly effective in the red zone, with three TD tosses. Otherwise, it was run, run, run by the Panthers. They carried 56 times, including 22 (for 117 yards and a score) by James Connor.
PSU was five of five in the red zone, with four TDs.
As Peterman scrambled toward the end zone, PSU LB Manny Bowen moved in to lower the boom. And Bowen did just that. Only he wiped out his own man — DT Kevin Givens, who fell to the turf as if he’d been punched by Mike Tyson. Givens left the field and did not return.
WHAT'S UP WITH?
• All of the injury issues for the Lions. LB Jason Cabinda and WR Saeed Blacknall were both scratches. Givens, CB Grant Haley and DE Evan Schwan all left Saturday’s game and did not return.
• More poor tackling by the Lions. This is now crossing over between two coordinators, so it is fair to wonder if James Franklin’s teams do enough full contact work in the preseason.
• More erratic kicking from Joey Julius. He is now being allowed to focus solely on kickoffs. And yet Quadree Henderson’s long return was on a kick where Julius completely botched the placement.
• Penn State saying all week it expected Panther freshman defensive back Jordan Whitehead to be used in the offense — and then allowing Whitehead to bust loose on a 28-yard run on his one touch.
LOST IN THE SHUFFLE
• PSU has finally found a solid punt return man in CB John Reid. His 59-yarder Saturday was PSU’s longest since 2008. And he is fearless back there.
• K Tyler Davis made a 38-yarder under pressure Saturday. He is now 2 of 2 on the season and 8 of 8 in his career.
DID YOU NOTICE?
• With Cabinda out, Will LB Nyeem Wartman-White moved to Mike. Brandon Bell moved from Sam to Will. And the sophomore Bowen took over at Sam. Wartman-White and Bell had nine tackles each.
• True freshman LB Cam Brown saw action on special teams, burning his redshirt.
• The betting line closed at — you guessed it — three points. But the bookies get demerits for setting the over/under at 44.
Will the momentum PSU generated in the second half here carry over into next week’s home game vs. Temple?