Penn State Posts 37 Points In Second Half Against Pitt PSU
PITTSBURGH — James Franklin came up with what probably goes down as the most obvious of good ideas after his season-opening comeback win over Appalachian State.
Find more ways, the Penn State head coach said last week, to get K.J. Hamler the ball.
Almost immediately, the implementation of that plan paid dividends for the Nittany Lions.
The redshirt freshman speedster scored two first-half touchdowns, and a series of special teams gaffes and unforced errors by Pittsburgh helped No. 13 Penn State throttle the rival Panthers, 51-6, at rain-drenched Heinz Field on Saturday night.
By the end, the Pittsburgh defense and its hapless special teams units — helped by the 14 penalties the Panthers committed — provided little resistance against a Penn State offense that posted more than 50 points against them for the first time since 1971. The Nittany Lions outgained the Panthers by more than 100 yards in the second half and backup quarterback Sean Clifford threw a 34-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Polk with 4:21 left in a mostly empty stadium in what essentially amounted to rub-it-in time.
But like he did in the opener, Hamler made an impact in the passing and kick return games for the Nittany Lions. But he got them going early with his first rushing play of the season.
After forcing an initial three-and-out on Pittsburgh’s first offensive possession, the Nittany Lions flashed the game-breaking speed that proved to be the difference in their tight opening-week win.
On a jet sweep to the left, the lightning-quick Hamler made two diving Pitt defenders miss — one near the line, the other just outside the 20 — to cruise into the end zone with a 32-yard touchdown run and a 7-0 lead.
He’d end the first half the way he started it, slashing between two defenders and breaking open on a corner route, hauling in a pinpoint throw from quarterback Trace McSorley with 26 seconds left in the second quarter from 14 yards out to extend the lead.
In between, though, the Panthers did their best not to claim the advantage themselves.
Pittsburgh answered the first Hamler score well enough, with the help of almost exactly the same play Penn State scored on moments earlier.
Freshman Shocky Jacques-Louis took a jet sweep handoff to the right and burned the Nittany Lions defense for 38 yards. It was the first — and biggest — play of a 10-play, 75-yard drive that resulted in Qadree Ollison’s untouched 13-yard touchdown run on a third-and-10. The Panthers botched the extra-point attempt and trailed, 7-6.
But special teams mistakes and penalties — one an unsportsmanlike foul call against fiery coach Pat Narduzzi — piled up to haunt the Panthers. Driving to take the lead in the first quarter, Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett lofted a pass up the right sideline for receiver Tre Tipton that cornerback Amani Oruwariye leaped up and picked off at the Nittany Lions’ 2.
The Panthers had another chance to grab the lead in the second quarter. Punter Blake Gillikin pinned the Panthers inside the 5 with a high, arching punt, but the Panthers seemed to negate that when Ollison plowed through a hole on the left side of the Pittsburgh line and rumbled 63 yards to put his team in scoring position. But the Penn State defense stiffened, and a 35-yard field goal attempt by Alex Kessman sailed wide right after holder Jake Scarton couldn’t handle a high snap.
Then, Pittsburgh had another chance, an perhaps their best one. After linebacker Quintin Wirginis forced freshman Ricky Slade to lose control of the ball on a third-down carry and defensive end Rashad Weaver recovered the fumble, the Panthers ran the ball five straight plays to push the ball inside the Nittany Lions’ 5. On fourth-and-3 from the 4, and after a timeout, the Panthers lined up in a goal-line formation and tried to run left. But defensive end Shareef Miller stood up a pulling lineman from the left side, and reserve cornerback Zech McPhearson dropped Ollison for a 3-yard loss before he could get moving.
The Lions wound up putting together that last-minute drive in the first half, and the Penn State defense dominated after the McPhearson play at the goal line.
From the time the Panthers lined up for that goal-line play until the end of the third quarter, the Nittany Lions held Pittsburgh to no yards on 18 plays. But the mistakes kept piling up. A roughing the passer penalty helped extend a third-quarter drive that McSorley capped with a 4-yard touchdown run.
A holding penalty in the end zone on left tackle Stefano Millin, trying to corral sophomore tackle Ellison Jordan, netted Penn State a safety, and DeAndre Thompkins put a cap on the first half by returning a 36-yard punt by Curt Christodoulou 39 yards untouched for a 30-6 lead.