STATE COLLEGE — The question had the word “rivalry” in it, and Marcus Allen felt the need to interrupt.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a rivalry, to be honest,” the Penn State senior safety said after the Nittany Lions’ 33-14 win over Pitt on Saturday. “We just came into this game prepared and ready to play. They probably were hyped up. We were hyped, too. Of course. Any team that beat us, we want to get back at them.
“But I wouldn’t say they’re a rivalry. At all.”
The Lions have said that a lot about the Panthers in these two years since the in-state series has resumed. But their actions say something different.
Take Lions coach James Franklin, who has religiously refused to place an extra ounce of emphasis on the Pitt game, which the Panthers won 42-39 last September. But after Saturday’s win, he ended his opening statement with this:
“We were able to get a win. That’s what this was for us, guys,” Franklin said. “I know last year for their win, it was like the Super Bowl. But for us, it was just like beating Akron.”
“Interpret it however you want,” Franklin said. “I’ve been saying for three years that each win is like the Super Bowl for us. So you can interpret it however you want. Last week, we beat Akron, and it was a great win. This win, we beat Pittsburgh and it was a great win. This win was no more significant for us than last week. … Each win stands alone.”
Still, with 3:26 left in the fourth quarter with a 19-point lead, the Lions called timeout after a first-down run by the Panthers went nowhere, hoping to get the ball back and score again.
When it was over, Penn State running backs coach Charles Huff wrote on Twitter, “33>14…No Key Chains needed…on to the next RIVALRY game (Georgia State)!”
The key chain reference would be from back in February when Pitt tight ends coach Tim Salem posted a photo on social media of his car keys with a Pennsylvania-shaped trinket attached and the words “PITT 42 PSU 39” along with the game’s date.
And as much as they might try to downplay it, this one did seem to mean more to some Lions players. Among them would be senior wideout DaeSean Hamilton, who took last season’s loss particularly hard after he dropped a potential go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter.
The loss in all likelihood kept Penn State out of the College Football Playoff at the end of the season.
“It really feels really good, the fact that they were the team that possibly put our season in a different direction,” Hamilton said. “Basically a team we should’ve beaten last year. It feels really good — not necessarily revenge, but just to go in and handle business like we should’ve last year.”
Though the No. 4 Lions (2-0) played from ahead the entire game, it wasn’t quite the stomping that some predicted. A three-touchdown favorite, Penn State didn’t completely put the game away until Allen made a terrific read on a Pitt screen pass from the end zone, dropping Darrin Hall for a safety and a 30-14 lead in the fourth quarter.
Quarterback Trace McSorley missed on some early passes and finished 15 for 28 for just 164 yards, though he found tight end Mike Gesicki for two more touchdowns and hit Saquon Barkley wide open over the middle for a 46-yard score in the third quarter.
With just 1:12 left in the first half, Barkley had only touched the ball five times — four carries for 11 yards and one catch for zero. Pitt’s gameplan of chewing up the clock and giving Penn State’s offense as few possessions as possible was working to an extent — at that point in the game, the Panthers (1-1) had run twice as many plays and had a whopping 15-minute advantage in time of possession.
Despite the defense keying heavily on him, however, Barkley still finished with 133 total yards — 88 rushing on 14 carries and four catches for 45 more — and two touchdowns, giving him seven career scores against Pitt.
“It’s scary to think that we didn’t even play our best game on offense and still got 33 points,” Barkley said.
Barkley also downplayed the significance of beating Pitt, calling it just as important of a win as any other.
Last year’s game, however, set an all-time sports attendance record for the city of Pittsburgh. Saturday’s game was announced at just 102 short of 110,000, the largest in Beaver Stadium in nearly eight full years.
“Great crowd out there — 109,000,” Panthers cornerback Avonte Maddox told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette after the game. “What can you do but call that a rivalry?”
No. 4 Penn State 33, Pitt 14
Pitt`0`3`3`8 — 14
Penn State`14`0`7`12 — 33
PSU — Gesicki 8 pass from McSorley (T.Davis kick), 12:53
PSU — Gesicki 10 pass from McSorley (T.Davis kick), 5:20
UP — Kessman 28 field goal, 1:12
PSU — Barkley 46 pass from McSorley (T.Davis kick), 10:32
UP — Kessman 24 field goal, 6:03
PSU — Barkley 8 run (T.Davis kick), 14:54
UP — DiNucci 3 run (Ollison pass from DiNucci), 10:09
PSU — Safety, Hall tackled by Marc.Allen in end zone, 5:53
PSU — T.Davis 24 field goal, 3:34
Time of Possession`38:20`21:40
RUSHING — UP, Ollison 15-96, Moss 11-46, Hall 5-19, Ffrench 1-8, DiNucci 5-8, Maddox 1-1, Q.Henderson 2-(minus 5), Browne 5-(minus 18). PSU, Barkley 14-88, McSorley 8-65, (Team) 1-(minus 2), Sanders 1-(minus 3).
PASSING — UP, Browne 19-32-2-138, DiNucci 5-9-0-49. PSU, McSorley 15-28-1-164.
RECEIVING — UP, Weah 6-65, Araujo-Lopes 4-42, Flanagan 3-19, Ollison 2-30, Ffrench 2-9, Hall 2-9, Q.Henderson 2-5, Moss 2-(minus 4), Mathews 1-12. PSU, Barkley 4-45, Gesicki 4-39, Hamilton 3-45, Polk 1-18, Thompkins 1-12, Ju.Johnson 1-4, Stevens 1-1.
MISSED FIELD GOALS — None.