Staff Predictions: No. 13 Penn State vs. Pitt

No. 13 Penn State football will take on Pitt at Heinz Field Saturday night following a narrow week one victory over Appalachian State.

As Pat Narduzzi said, this is bigger than a normal game for the Panthers and their fanbase. The two teams split the first two meetings of their current four-game set, so Saturday’s winner will get a leg up entering next season’s matchup. Though some predictions are closer than others, our staff sees Penn State pulling this one out in the end.

Matt Fox (1-0): Penn State 34, Pitt 20

This shouldn’t be that difficult of a game for Penn State. If there’s one thing I’ve learned after last week’s near disaster against Appalachian State, however, it’s that James Franklin’s young Nittany Lions still have some growing to do. Pitt will push them behind the support of its 23 fans screaming their heads off like they’re at the Super Bowl. Ultimately, Penn State will find a way.

Derek Bannister (1-0): Penn State 30, Pitt 14

This season already feels so weird and like anything I say here will be completely wrong. In any case, I think McSorley will throw for a bajillion yards for a few reasons: The Pitt defense lost some important pieces in the secondary, it plays with press corners, and it gave up 263 passing yards against Albany. Still, that strange Pitt offense with the misdirections and cut blocks will burn enough time off of the clock to keep either team from scoring very much. I expect a slightly rattled start from the young Nittany Lions in what will surely be a hostile environment.

Ethan Kasales (1-0): Penn State 31, Pitt 27

Miles Sanders figures to have a huge game in his return to his hometown, but the Panthers should offer a more substantial test than many might think. I think Pitt may even be leading in the fourth quarter before Trace McSorley marches the Nittany Lions down the field for another clutch scoring drive to eke out a victory.

Hayden Christ (0-0): Penn State 35, Pitt 20

Penn State will have no problem against Pitt offensively. The Nittany Lions’ defense looked a little lackluster against Appalachian State, but I believe that the unit has figured enough out this week at practice to be just fine this weekend. I’m expecting a big game from Trace McSorley, and I also wouldn’t mind James Franklin giving Pitt a taste of what Ricky Slade can really do. Pitt will get its points, but nowhere near enough to overcome the Nittany Lions.

Anthony Fiset (0-0): Penn State 35, Pitt 14

I think James Franklin will whip his defense into shape after looking like Swiss cheese last week. Hopefully, they’ll look like a solid block of cheddar when they take the field against Akron. I expect Trace McSorley to stuff the stat sheets in a Heisman-caliber performance against a familiar defense. I also expect guarantee that the first half will be 100 times more stressful than it needs to be before the Nittany Lions finally pull away. Once a second half team, always a second half team.

Austin Smith (0-0): Penn State 31, Pitt 17

After a concerning performance last weekend, I think Penn State’s defense will buckle down. I expect a close game for the first half due to a hostile crowd, but Juwan Johnson should make a few big plays late to extend the Nittany Lions’ lead. Miles Sanders should continue his impressive start to the 2018 season in his hometown. Pitt’s had a history of upsetting top-ranked teams in the past few years, so Franklin should be more than ready to face the Panthers.

Matt Paolizzi (0-0): Penn State 42, Pitt 28

Can we at least breathe during this game? After last week’s doozy, let’s hope that, for the collective cardiac health of Penn State’s fanbase, things are a bit calmer. With a crafty offense like Pitt’s, last week’s hole-filled defense needs to step up. The offense showed potential against Appalachian State, and if the running backs can keep going, the wide receivers find their hands, and Trace McSorley can actually look like a Heisman contender, the Nittany Lions should return to form.

Steve Connelly (1-0): Penn State 31, Pitt 17

Here we go again: Penn State is a second half team. I think it’s scarred into my brain from 2016, but the Nittany Lions will emerge in the second half. Overall, Penn State’s offense clicked to lead a late comeback against Appalachian State, so expect to see some of that magic in the second half as the Nittany Lions pull away late from Pitt. The young Penn State defense will rebound from a tough week and answer some questions in shutting down the Panthers.

Mikey Mandarino (1-0): Penn State 38, Pitt 24

Pitt’s secondary lost a lot of key pieces from last year’s team, which is why I think the Nittany Lions’ offense will run wild at Heinz Field. Saturday’s game should help Trace McSorley’s Heisman case quite a bit; I expect him to pass for at least 300 yards and a couple scores to extend his active streak of consecutive games with a touchdown pass to 30. Penn State’s defense looked rough in week one against Appalachian State, but as sophomore cornerback Tariq Castro-Fields noted on Wednesday, teams make their biggest changes of the season in between the first two weeks of the regular season. Expect a better, but still not great, performance from the Nittany Lion defense against Pitt’s constant end-arounds and cut blocks.

Elissa Hill (1-0): Penn State 35, Pitt 31

Last week could’ve effectively ended Penn State’s season, but somehow here we are. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: This one will be a little too close for comfort. I expect Pitt to come out swinging after a week of unsavory Sandusky scandal jokes, but one Penn State fans start to get loud at Heinz Field, it’s over. This sort of thing happens at a pseudo-home game. Juwan Johnson has a lot to prove after last week, but I think he’ll deliver against Pitt along with some impressive production on the ground from Miles Sanders and Ricky Slade. Oh, and three more words — second half team.

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