Imagine if Penn State had played well!

My take going into the Lion’s 51-6 dismantling of Pitt was that this matchup was in no way a rivalry. I wouldn’t have changed my mind based on one game regardless, but the Panthers checked every box for unworthy. I said Pitt was no more PSU’s rival than any other mediocre ACC school, say, NC State. I would like to take this opportunity to formally apologize for denigrating the Wolfpack like that.

So what can we glean for Saturday night’s result?

The big picture

The perception of the program from outside our bubble will improve dramatically now that (begin sarcastic voice here) the Lions have righted the ship against ACC contender Pitt after surviving the wake-up call in the opener against weak little Appalachian State (end sarcastic voice). Anyone here think Pitt is better than App? Anyone think the Panthers are worth playing every year on an equal home-and-home basis? Is a rivalry game necessary if this is the best we can do? I’m going with no, no and no.

While James Franklin and the squad prepare for next week’s “Super Bowl” against Kent State and the following week’s “Super Bowl” against Illinois, Lions fans can anticipate being 4-0 and ranked in the top 10 going into the Ohio State game. It’s 20 days away.

The Lions will need all 20 of those days and the two tune-ups, because they are in no way ready for the Buckeyes.

Plenty to work on

  • Blame the rain if you like, but PSU has a host of receivers in need of remedial instruction on catching the ball. Crank up the JUGS machine.
  • The defense was a sieve, again, in the first half. But for a goal-line interception and a missed field goal, PSU would have been — and should have been — trailing at the break.
  • We still haven’t seen Tommy Stevens reprise his “Lion” role on the offense, a dimension the team will need against Ohio State and thereafter. Some will argue for holding him out until Sept. 29 to keep the Buckeyes guessing. I’d rather he get reps if he truly is going to be an integral part of the offense. We can only hope his foot issue isn’t more serious than the program is letting on.

Positive signs

  • Whatever excuses you want to give Pitt (weather, game situation), Penn State’s second-half defense was stellar. Whatever coordinator Brent Pry did at halftime in the way of adjustments or motivational speaking, it worked. Pitt had minus-2 yards of offense while being put away in the third quarter and only got to 69 yards for the second half because of garbage time.
    The return of defensive tackle Kevin Givens provided a spark. He made his own big plays (7 total tackles, 2 for losses) and freed up Shareef Miller, Shaka Toney and others to wreak havoc. The pass rush overwhelmed quarterback Kenny Pickett, sacking him four times. He had no chance to make plays, finished with 55 passing yards, 1 interception and no TDs. Pitt had no answers.
  • Miles Sanders cemented his status as lead back, running decisively and aggressively in his first career 100-yard game.
  • The special teams avoided the huge negative plays that occurred in Week 1. The coverage teams were solid. Jake Pinegar hit 7 PATs and is striking the ball really well through two games, so I’m not worried about his narrow miss from 45 yards in the first quarter.

Up next

I watched the first quarter of Kent State-Illinois in Week 1, and immediately chalked up wins for the Lions in Weeks 3 and 4. Those are not good teams. I could change my mind on Illinois if they beat South Florida this Saturday to go to 3-0 and look impressive doing it. The Lions do have to travel to Illinois for that game, a 9 p.m. start on a Friday, Sept. 21.

But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. I’m returning to Dear Old State to see the Kent State game in person this Saturday. I’m rooting for nice weather and hoping to see the Lions play a complete game and win by about 8 TDs.