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Here is your Penn State Wakeup Call for Sept. 9 … or PSU-Pitt Eve, as it were.
Penn State, Pitt presidents: Can’t we all just get along?
Eric Barron and Patrick Gallagher, respective presidents of Penn State and Pitt, issued a joint statement on Pitt’s athletic website Thursday, the essence of which is this: Chill, people.
Good sportsmanship is key to any successful athletic contest and knowing that our fans are some of the best in the world, we expect no less.
Hoping that this doesn’t fall on deaf ears.
It’s just a game, everyone.
Just. A. Game.
Some final words from James Franklin
The Penn State coach made his final public appearance of game week on the school’s coaches show Thursday evening. Nothing particularly earth-shattering, though he did say this about the tempo the Nittany Lions hope to use under new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead:
We have four different tempos. We have a tempo where we’re going to get the ball and snap right away. We have a tempo where the quarterback is going to check and see if the original call is right. We have a tempo where we ran the same play and are going to run the same play, or a variation of the same play again, and we have a tempo with … multiple checks.
Franklin also said that it took Moorhead three series to get a bead on how Kent State was defending the Lions in last week’s opener, a 33-13 PSU victory. And in keeping with not only the theme of the week but the entirety of Franklin’s tenure to date, he said he doesn’t want his players to get too emotionally charged on any given week:
I think it’s a balance. That’s where the last three years have helped. This has been a model we used. I always thought it was interesting as a player and as an assistant coach, the coach would get up and talk about how important this game was, and then you might be playing a lower division school the next week, and he doesn’t approach it the same way, and the team comes out flat.
We teach; there’s standards and expectations of how we do things at Penn State, week in and week out, no matter what.
What this week’s game might mean, recruiting-wise
From the moment he was hired in January 2014, Penn State coach James Franklin has said he wants to “dominate the state” in recruiting.
That hasn’t always sat well with the Commonwealth’s other schools, but Fightonstate.com’s Rob Riva offered considerable evidence that Franklin is in fact dominating the recruiting battles with Pitt. By Riva’s count, 31 high school players who landed at one of the two schools over the last two recruiting cycles had offers from both institutions.
Twenty-six opted for PSU.
That being the case, Riva wrote:
Saturday’s game between Penn State and Pitt will be the first must-win game of the James Franklin-era of Penn State football. … It is time for Penn State to show that its dominance of Pennsylvania over Pitt extends beyond off-the-field contests.
Not sure I agree that one meeting will alter the balance of power all that much. If the Panthers sweep the Lions in the four games currently scheduled between the schools, or even win three of four, that might change things. But one game? That’s a tough sell for me.
Another trip down memory lane
Sports on Earth’s Matt Brown offered one more retrospective on the Penn State-Pitt series, this one going all the way back to 1919, a 20-0 Penn State victory that included a play that would long be celebrated as one of the most daring in college football history – a pass on a fake punt out of the Nittany Lions’ end zone.
The set-up was this: Pitt, coached by the legendary Pop Warner, had won the previous six meetings, and Nittany Lions coach Hugo Bezdek scouted the Panthers extensively in an effort to end the slide. Brown includes in his account something Bezdek told sportswriter Hugh S. Fullerton (renowned for his coverage of the Black Sox Scandal that same year) after the game:
The strategy of the Penn State-Pitt game was one of the finest examples of football planning I have ever known. Lest this seem a bit immodest, permit me to say that I am leaving myself out of the thing entirely. The game with Pittsburgh is, of course, the most important one on the schedule of the Penn State team every year. In 1918, when I took charge at Penn State as coach, the one big fact that was impressed upon my mind was that we must lick Warner.
“Lest this seem a bit immodest”? Whoa.
What Bezdek’s assistants discovered in their scouting was that the Panthers sold out when rushing the punter. So when the Lions gained possession at their own 8-yard line early in the game, they set up to punt on first down, something that was apparently not uncommon in that day and age.
Pitt did indeed rush punter Bill Hess with 10 guys, but he rolled to his right and passed to end Bob Higgins, who took it 92 yards for a touchdown.
A couple things: Such daring play calling was particularly uncommon in that era. And the forward pass had only been legalized 14 years earlier.
The footnote is that that was the only time PSU beat Pitt in a 23-game stretch.
Catching up with Adam Breneman
Tight end Adam Breneman was rated the top player at his position by ESPN.com heading into his senior year at Cedar Cliff High School, near Harrisburg, Pa. After missing that season with a torn right ACL, he arrived at Penn State to great acclaim in January 2013.
He had a promising freshman year but then had another knee injury – this time to his left – wipe out the better part of the last two seasons. He graduated last December, and then issued a statement in early January saying he was through at Penn State.
Everyone figured his career was over. Turned out it wasn’t. He has resurfaced at Massachusetts, and when I caught up with him for one of my other gigs this week, he expressed optimism:
I think I have the talent and the ability – the size, the motivation – to play football and play it really well. I hope to play at the highest level. My goal is to play in the NFL, and UMass is where I thought I would be given the best shot to get there.
He had two catches for six yards in a season-opening loss at Florida. UMass plays Boston College this week in Gillette Stadium.
‘Wait ’til Otis sees us. He loves us!’
The Penn State Football Letter tweeted out this photo of Nittany Lions undergrads road-tripping to a game at Pitt in 1971. The message on the side of the vehicle refers to tailback Lydell Mitchell, eighth on the school’s all-time rushing list with 2,934 yards – meaning, apparently, that he heeded this none-too-subtle entreaty.
— The Football Letter (@PSUFBLetter) September 8, 2016
Around the Big Ten: Scott Frost, the former Nebraska star, is finding his way as the new coach at Central Florida | Corey Masisak tracked down some former Penn State and Pitt players, and asked about their recollections of the rivalry | Stephen Pianovich wrote about John Elway’s words of wisdom to Denver Broncos rookie quarterback Trevor Siemian.