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Penn State outclassed Pitt, and James Franklin was sure to rub it in

The Nittany Lions ran the Panthers out of their own stadium.

NCAA Football: Penn State at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

No. 13 Penn State led Pitt by eight at halftime on Saturday, then blew open the game with a dominant third quarter and cruised to a 51-6 destruction of its in-state rival.

In a series where the primary drama for years has been arguing over whose fault it is that the games haven’t been played, the Nittany Lions left no doubt about which team’s superior at actual football. They were the better team in every respect, and dramatically so.

Pitt’s poor special teams especially stuck out, while Penn State’s defense — especially against the pass — was brilliant. The Lions had three takeaways and a safety.

The Nittany Lions were comfortable rubbing things in as much as possible.

Despite ugly weather and field conditions, James Franklin had his backup quarterback, Sean Clifford, throw a 34-yard TD while up dozens in the fourth quarter. He also challenged a fumble call with a minute left, while his team led by 45. (The call stood.)

Franklin doesn’t like Pitt. After beating the Panthers in 2017, he compared them to Akron. But he generally (and fairly) competes to the end regularly. He once called a timeout before a Georgia State field goal attempt at the end of a 56-0 blowout.

Franklin and Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi exchanged a curt handshake after the game. It lasted about one second. Afterward, someone asked Narduzzi about PSU running it up.

“Hey, you know what, I coach Pitt football,” he said. “I don’t coach for anybody else. That’s on them. You’ve got to sleep at night.”

Below, you can read a reverse chronology of the game.

You’ll notice that the second half involved lots of great developments for the visiting team.

Fourth quarter

PSU 51, Pitt 6

Lol.

PSU 44, Pitt 6

Mark Allen scored a touchdown from 4 yards out. Six minutes to go.

PSU 37, Pitt 6

A Pitt series just ended with PSU backup defensive end Shaka Toney sacking Kenny Pickett. Pitt’s had 8 yards of total offense in the second half.

PSU 37, Pitt 6

Penn State receiver and National All-Name Team member Mac Hippenhammer made his first career reception, and it happened in the end zone for an 11-yard touchdown.

PSU 30, Pitt 6

Pitt just punted in the opening minute of the quarter.

After three quarters: Penn State 30, Pitt 6

PSU took control of the game in those 15 minutes. Pitt’s offense gained negative-2 yards and allowed a safety, getting zero first downs. The Panthers have made too many mistakes to have a chance against a superior opponent, so the Nittany Lions will cruise home.

PSU 30, Pitt 6

Pitt has punted again. DeAndre Thompkins has returned it for a touchdown, continuing the Panthers’ abysmal special-teams night. Ballgame.

PSU 23, Pitt 6

Pitt’s defense has settled into a decent rhythm, but it hasn’t helped field position at all. The Panthers’ special teams have been putrid, and after a muffed punt they were lucky to fall on, they’ve started at their own 4-yard line. Pitt’s starting field positions this quarter have been their 15, 8, 5, and 4. It’s been a consistent, significant struggle.

PSU 23, Pitt 6

The Panthers went three-and-out from their own 10. Penn State starts at its own 45 and continues to own field position in bad weather.

PSU 23, Pitt 6

Pitt got a stop after a post-safety punt, but the Panthers continue to be hemmed deep in their own territory. This drive starts at their 10.

PSU 23, Pitt 6

A holding penalty in the end zone just handed Penn State a safety. Pitt has melted down, and this game’s now over in all likelihood, with 7:38 left in the third quarter.

Pitt’s committed 10 penalties for 86 yards.

PSU 21, Pitt 6

The Panthers’ special teams continue to be bad. After a lousy kickoff return that only brought the ball out to the 16, a block in the back brought it back all the way to the 8. Pitt’s misadventures in the third phase of the game have changed a lot.

PSU 21, Pitt 6

Trace McSorley scored from 4 yards out after keeping it on an option read. A roughing-the-passer penalty cost Pitt at least four points on that drive, maybe seven.

In these conditions, Pitt’s in a world of trouble now.

PSU 14, Pitt 6

On back-to-back plays, Penn State receivers DeAndre Thompkins and Juwan Johnson dropped well-thrown passes from Trace McSorley. Thompkins coughed up a touchdown, Johnson a first down. Penn State then came up short on a third-and-long, but a roughing-the-passer penalty will keep the series going for the Nittany Lions.

PSU 14, Pitt 6

Pitt’s offense couldn’t move at all after starting at its own 15. Following a punt, Penn State took over at the Panthers’ 40 and is already moving.

PSU 14, Pitt 6

Pitt’s defense came up with a penalty-aided three-and-out to start the second half. Penn State’s punt was fair-caught at the Pitt 15, where Kenny Pickett will get back to work.

PSU 14, Pitt 6

Miles Sanders caught a 64-yard touchdown pass on a wheel route, but offensive pass interference on Juwan Johnson nullified it and pushed PSU back 15 yards. (That pass interference was the reason Sanders was so open, so fair’s fair.)

Halftime: Penn State 14, Pitt 6

The first 30 minutes had a few big stories:

  • Penn State receiver KJ Hamler made his two touches count: a 32-yard touchdown run on a sweep and a 14-yard touchdown catch on a crafty route over the middle.
  • Pitt’s special teams were terrible. The Panthers had a missed PAT, a missed 35-yard field goal, and one of their punts blocked, all because of struggles handling a wet ball. All of those miscues led directly to Penn State points, and taken together, they’re the simplest reason Pitt is losing. Despite PSU averaging 7.5 yards per play to Pitt’s 5.9, the Panthers would be winning if they hadn’t cost themselves in this area.

Miles Sanders ran eight times for 74 yards for the Nittany Lions. Qadree Ollison ran 17 times for 125 yards and a touchdown for Pitt, leading a one-dimensional offense. Pitt QB Kenny Pickett was 4 of 8 passing for 17 yards, no scores, and an interception.

Second quarter

PSU 14, Pitt 6

KJ Hamler has his second touchdown of the night for Penn State, on a 19-yard pass from Trace McSorley with 26 seconds left in the half.

Pitt has outplayed Penn State for much of this half, but the Nittany Lions are about to take an 8-point lead into the half, after which they’ll receive a kickoff. Pitt’s horrific special teams have changed the game and put Penn State in a comfortable position for now.

PSU 7, Pitt 6

Pitt’s disastrous half of special teams continued with a dropped punt snap, which led to a blocked punt. Penn State starts with the ball at the Pitt 35 and 59 seconds.

PSU 7, Pitt 6

Pitt’s defense is engaged tonight. Quintin Wirginis sacked Trace McSorley on third-and-medium to force a punt, and Pitt will start with good field position.

PSU 7, Pitt 6

Pitt went for it on fourth-and-3 at the Penn State 4. A fine decision! But it didn’t work, and the Nittany Lions pushed Pitt backward to the Nittany Lions’ 7.

PSU 7, Pitt 6

Pitt has a fourth-and-3 from the Penn State 4-yard line. Pat Narduzzi left his offense on the field, than raced down the sideline to call a timeout.

Given Pitt’s kicking woes so far (a missed 35-yard field goal after a bad hold, a missed extra point where a bad hold prevented a kick at all), going for it seems smart. If Pitt gets stopped, all it’s done for sure is create good field position. A kick might not go through anyway, so why not try the higher-reward play and go for 7?

PSU 7, Pitt 6

Penn State’s featured five-star true freshman running back Ricky Slade on this drive. Slade looked great, until he lost a fumble after picking up a first down.

Pitt takes over at about the Penn State 32.

PSU 7, Pitt 6

Alex Kessman missed a 35-yard field goal slightly off to the right, following snap-and-hold difficulties. Pitt’s special teams have been disastrous.

8:49 to play in the second quarter.

PSU 7, Pitt 6

On the first play of Pitt’s drive, from his own 4-yard line, Qadree Ollison got a nice block from fullback George Aston and ran 63 yards. Pitt’s moved inside the PSU 30.

PSU 7, Pitt 6

Pitt’s defense got a stop, but the excitement of that stop is mitigated by a lovely Blake Gillikin pooch punt that came to rest at the Panthers’ 4. James Franklin wisely decided not to try a 49-yard field goal into the open end of Heinz Field under sloppy conditions.

PSU 7, Pitt 6

The Nittany Lions are marching, but Pitt defensive back Damarri Mathis just shot through a bunch of blockers like a missile to tackle Miles Sanders for a loss of 6 after a spin move.

End first quarter: Penn State 7, Pitt 6

Pitt got penalized for having 12 men on the field on defense. Pat Narduzzi got a sideline warning from the officials, then an unsportsmanlike conduct flag after he didn’t quiet down to their satisfaction. Penn State has moved to the Pitt 41. Narduzzi appeared to be angry that he wasn’t being given enough time to make his substitutions.

PSU 7, Pitt 6

Penn State’s Amani Oruwariye — the hero who intercepted an Appalachian State pass in overtime in Week 1 — intercepted a Kenny Pickett pass just in front of the goal line.

On the first play after that, Miles Sanders ran about 80 yards for Penn State. But a block in the back rendered that only about a 31-yarder, to the PSU 32. Still a lot!

PSU 7, Pitt 6

On third-and-10, Pitt QB Kenny Pickett scrambled and got pushed out of bounds well short of the line to gain. But Penn State end Shareef Miller gave Pickett a little shove a little late, and a personal foul extended Pitt’s drive. The Panthers are across midfield.

PSU 7, Pitt 6

A needless delay-of-game penalty pushed back a Pitt third-and-4 to a third-and-9, but a scrambling Kenny Pickett ran for a first down anyway, up to Pitt’s 38.

PSU 7, Pitt 6

Pitt defensive tackle Shane Roy batted down a Trace McSorley throw on third-and-3 at the Pitt 27, and then Jake Pinegar missed a 45-yard field goal wide right. Special teams haven’t been clean so far at all, and the Panthers are back in business.

PSU 7, Pitt 6

After a botched PAT snap following a touchdown, Pitt committed another special-teams mishap on the kickoff. Two would-be tacklers let returner KJ Hamler hurdle them, and then a facemask turned a 27-yard return into a 42-yarder, basically. Penn State’s offense started at the Pitt 45, though a false start on center Michael Menet quickly backed it up.

PSU 7, Pitt 6

Almost a tie game after an impressive response drive by the Panthers, who’d started this game about as miserably as they could’ve dreamt up. Qadree Ollison’s 13-yard run capped a balanced 10-play, 75-yard scoring drive. Trouble on the PAT’s long snap ruined that, though, so Pitt’s still trailing by a point. This was the touchdown:

PSU 7, Pitt 0

Pitt’s moving the ball pretty well after going three-and-out on its first drive. The Panthers are inside Penn State’s 30 with a drive highlighted so far by a 38-yard Shocky Jacques-Louis run.

PSU 7, Pitt 0

That was quick. It’s a Penn State touchdown on a 32-yard sweep to receiver KJ Hamler. The redshirt freshman had dealt with injuries and not played a game in about two years before Week 1 against Appalachian State, but he’s lightning in a bottle. Miles Sanders made a sturdy lead-block to spring Hamler to the second level, and Hamler did the rest.

The game’s not even three minutes old.

A good point here from SB Nation’s Penn State blog, Black Shoe Diaries:

That play could pay dividends a few times, in a few ways.

PSU 0, Pitt 0

Pitt went three-and-out on the game’s first offensive series. Penn State edge defender Cam Brown flushed Kenny Pickett from the pocket and forced a bad throw, which Amani Orunwariye almost intercepted. After a punt, Penn State starts at its own 37.

PSU 0, Pitt 0

Kickoff is in a few minutes on Pittsburgh’s North Shore. Pitt won the coin toss and elected to receive to start the game. Kenny Pickett will get the ball before Trace McSorley.

ESPN’s Todd Blackledge reported on the broadcast that Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi wanted his captains to defer to the second half. They didn’t, despite the conditions.