Pittsburgh hung tough with Penn State through one half, but a number of special teams gaffes allowed the 13th-ranked Nittany Lions to improve upon last week’s close call versus Appalachian State with a 51-6 blowout of its Keystone State rivals.
After Penn State (2-0) opened the scoring on a 32-yard K.J. Hamler run, Pittsburgh matched that touchdown with a 13-yard plunge by Qadree Ollison rush, but punter Kirk Christodoulou could not corral the extra point snap and the Panthers could not get a kick off, settling for a 7-6 deficit.
With the score still 7-6, Alex Kessman pulled a 35-yard field goal and came away complaining about the hold as a driving rain blanketed the Heinz Field grass. Pitt’s defense forced a Miles Sanders fumble on the next possession, giving the Panthers the ball back at the Penn State 31 with 7:15 to play in the second quarter. Pitt (1-1) advanced to the Penn State 4, and Pat Narduzzi elected to eschew a field goal try and go for a 4th-and-goal. Penn State stuffed the ensuing run, getting to Ollison three yards behind the line of scrimmage.
Later, Pitt attempted the ball away inside the first half’s final minute and force a 7-6 halftime score, but Christodoulou dropped the punt snap and Penn State recovered at the Pitt 35. After a 21-yard Sanders run, Trace McSorley hit Hamler for a 14-yard score, giving the Nittany Lions a 14-6 halftime lead.
Penn State broke the game open with an 8-play, 80-yard drive, capped by a 4-yard McSorley run.
Pitt was called for holding in the end zone on the ensuing possession, pushing the Penn State lead to 23-6, and DeAndre Thompkins provided the exclamation point by returning a punt 39 yards for a touchdown with 28 ticks to go in the third quarter. McSorley added one more touchdown pass, an 11-yard toss to Mac Hippenhammer, with 11:40 to play. Mark Allen piled on a 4-yard plunge with 6:17 remaining, and backup quarterback Sean Clifford capped the scoring with a 34-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Polk with 4:21 to play.
McSorley completed 14-of-30 passes for 145 yards with two touchdowns, while Sanders led the Nittany Lions with 16 carries for 118 yards.
Ollison led all runners with 119 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries, but he did most of his damage before halftime. Pitt’s passing offense was non-existent, as Kenny Pickett mustered eight completions in 16 tries for just 51 yards with an interception.
The win gives Penn State two straight victories over Pitt, matching the 2-game streak the Panthers carried into 2017. Penn State had won seven straight before that, and owns a 52-43-4 advantage in a series that dates back to 1893.