Penn State’s Defense Proved Itself In Clutch Situations Against Pitt
There’s a saying in football that the most changes made by a team come between weeks one and two of the season. After allowing 28 fourth-quarter points to Appalachian State in a game that went into overtime, it took an acrobatic interception from Amani Oruwariye to bail out the Nittany Lions in their season opener.
Clutch situational defense saved Penn State in that win over the Mountaineers, and it played a key role in sparking the Blue and White on Saturday night in Pittsburgh.
The Nittany Lions struggled against the run early in the game, as Qadree Ollison and the Pitt offensive line dominated the point of attack for much of the first half. The Panthers rushed for more than 200 yards in the first half, behind a 125-yard performance from Ollison on 17 attempts.
But it was Ollison’s 16th carry of the night that changed the battle in the trenches. After botched holds on consecutive extra point and field goal attempts and trailing 7-6 in the second quarter, Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi elected to go for it on fourth and three from Penn State’s four-yard line.
Defensive end Shareef Miller and cornerback Zech McPhearson met Ollison in the backfield for a loss, and it felt like the Panthers’ momentum was shattered. The Pitt offense never recovered.
The Panthers ran for -10 yards from the time of the turnover on downs with 4:44 remaining in the first half until the end of the third quarter. Some garbage time attempts for A.J. Davis brought Pitt’s rushing total back into the black for the second half, but Narduzzi’s team finished with only 40 yards in the second half.
Fifty-five rushing yards came with less than six minutes to go into the game, as Penn State’s defense held the hosts to -15 rushing yards during the first 22 minutes of the second half.
Thanks to the defense finally “showing up” at the right time of the game, the Nittany Lions were able to seize the momentum just before halftime. After the failed fourth down attempt by Pitt, Penn State was forced to punt. Yet another stop from LBU caused a three-and-out on Pitt’s last drive of the half, where punter/holder Kirk Christodoulou dropped the snap. Jarvis Miller recovered the ball at Pitt’s 35-yard line, setting up a touchdown pass from Trace McSorley to KJ Hamler to make the score 14-6 with 26 seconds left before the break.
Penn State managed to take care of the field position battle throughout the second half. Despite only gaining 60 yards of offense in the third quarter, a safety due to a Pitt hold inside of its own endzone was part of a 16-point frame for James Franklin’s team.
When the Nittany Lions defense forced a three-and-out two drives later that forced Pitt to punt from its own endzone, the special teams took care of business by springing punt returner DeAndre Thompkins to a very short 39-yard jaunt for a touchdown.
Meanwhile, Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett was proved incapable of throwing the football down the field. On his two notable pass attempts that went longer than 10 yards, Penn State cornerback Amani Oruwariye intercepted a pass on Penn State’s own one-yard line after a long drive led by Ollison, while safety Jonathan Southerland forced Shocky Jacques-Louis to fumble a 13-yard reception.
The fumbled catch was Pitt’s longest gain through the air all night.
Third down was dominated by Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry’s unit as well. Pickett converted just four of Pitt’s 15 third downs, and the Panthers were 0-for-3 on fourth down attempts as well.
This stingy play forced five straight three-and-outs from Pitt in the second half, allowing for Penn State’s offense and Thompkins’ return with such a short field to cover.
This showing was a vast improvement from the win over App State, a team that converted six out of 16 third down attempts, while moving the chains on both of its fourth down plays against the Nittany Lions.
Kent State visits Happy Valley on Saturday ranked No. 98 in the NCAA for third down conversions (11-for-31), and tied for second-to-last in the nation for turnovers lost (six), opening the door for what could be a massive performance again from Penn State’s defense this weekend.
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“As soon as his football skills are really sharp, Jayson’s going to be unstoppable.”
Both players will be suspended until August 1, but it’s currently unclear whether or not their suspensions will impact their game availability.
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