Keystone Classic Preview: Who prevails in the centennial game?


Bader Abdulmajeed | Senior Staff Photographer

Junior wide receiver Maurice Ffrench (2) celebrates after receiving a 32 yard pass.

By Tyler Moran, Staff Writer

The Pittsburgh Panthers (1-1, 0-1 ACC) and the No. 13 Penn State Nittany Lions (2-0) are set to square off in their 100th — and possibly last — meeting this Saturday at Beaver Stadium. While Pitt fans would love nothing more than to see their team tie the renewed rivalry at two games apiece, the Panthers will simply be outmatched in the talent department, especially at one of college football’s toughest road environments.

Pitt bested Penn State in the first matchup of this four game series, winning 42-39 in a classic back in 2016. But the Nittany Lions have won the last two in a row, capitalized by a 51-6 annihilation of the Panthers last season at Heinz Field.

Pitt hosted the Ohio Bobcats last weekend and bounced back from their Week 1 loss to Virginia. The Panthers won 20-10 behind starting wide receiver Maurice Ffrench, who racked up 138 yards on 10 catches, both career highs for the dynamic senior. Ffrench also found himself in the endzone for the first time this season.

Penn State also hosted a MAC opponent last weekend, when the Buffalo Bulls took a trip to Happy Valley. The Nittany Lions couldn’t find their rhythm on offense to open the game and found themselves down 10-7 at halftime, but that deficit was short-lived. Penn State erupted for a 28-point third quarter that ultimately led to a 45-13 blowout victory.

It’s safe to say that the Pitt-Penn State game this weekend will be a closer affair compared to last season. Both programs have lost vital personnel that shaped the identity of their respective offenses in years past.

The Panthers lost their dynamic backfield duo in Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall. These two highlighted a dominant Pitt rushing attack last season. Junior running back A.J. Davis has performed well through his first two games, but nothing compared to Ollison’s and Hall’s 2018 production.

On the other side, the Nittany Lions have moved on from their three-year starting quarterback Trace McSorley. They will also be without running back Miles Sanders, who declared for last year’s NFL draft. McSorley and Sanders were the main playmakers on the offense and losing them leaves an “explosive play” void.

But sophomore quarterback Sean Clifford has appeared to fill that void. He leads the team in both passing and rushing yards and has found the endzone a total of six times in two games. Despite the weaker competition, those numbers still stand out.

This game will be decided when Penn State holds the ball. To stay competitive, Pitt will have to contain Penn State’s weapons and stay away from penalties. Unlike last season, the Panther defense has been very solid to begin the year. While the secondary has been good, it’s been overshadowed by a dominant front seven.

Pitt surrendered a measly 212 yards of offense against Ohio, with 35 of those yards coming on the ground. The defense also had six sacks on the day, three of them coming from breakout sophomore defensive lineman Jaylen Twyman.

The Pittsburgh front seven has the edge over the Penn State rushing attack. As stated previously, the Nittany Lions’ leading rusher plays quarterback and has accumulated only 108 yards this season. Penn State has been unable to establish the run and replace the production of Mile Sanders. Barring a breakout running game, Pitt will hold its rival to under 100 yards on the ground.

The biggest challenge Pitt’s defense will face comes from the Penn State passing offense. Clifford will serve as a problem for the Pitt secondary. Explosive wide receiver KJ Hamler returns for the Nittany Lions and is joined by a pair of breakout receivers in sophomore Jahan Dotson and first-year Justin Shorter. The sure-handed sophomore tight end Pat Freiermuth also returns as a weapon for Clifford to utilize.

But in order to win, the Pitt offense will have to sustain drives and put points on the board so the defense can rest.

The glaring issue for Pitt heading into Saturday’s game would have to be the lack of offensive production to start the season. The Panthers have scored a subpar total of 34 points in their first two contests as they continue to struggle with the new offense implemented by new offensive coordinator Mark Whipple.

The keys for a Pitt win revolve around junior starting quarterback Kenny Pickett completing his deep passes and his receivers cutting out drops. As the offense starts rolling, the defense will get more rest and give the team the best opportunity to steal a win in Happy Valley.

For Penn State, stopping the Panthers’ offense and winning the passing battle will be the key to victory. The Nittany Lions have given up 20 points total in their first two games but will face their toughest competition so far on Saturday.

By continuously going three-and-out on offense, Pitt’s defense will be forced to be on the field longer. Penn State’s offense will look to thrive in this “war of attrition” and wear down Panther defenders.


Penn State: 28, Pitt: 14

Penn State will be victorious in the 100th meeting between these programs. The game will be tied 7-7 come halftime, as both offenses stall due to stellar defensive efforts. The second half is where Penn State’s keys to victory are in full display. Pickett is unable to get the offense rolling in the second half and the defense comes up big for Penn State.

Beaver Stadium erupts as the home team takes a 21-14 lead and Clifford will find Hamler to put the nail in the coffin late in the game. Both teams play an exciting, hard-fought game, but the Nittany Lions defeat the Panthers for the third straight season and end this illustrious rivalry on top.