Pittsburgh – Penn State
Time: 2:30 PM CT
Spread: PSU -20.5
Odds c/o 5dimes
The Pittsburgh Panthers opened the Season with a Week 1 victory over Youngstown State, winning 28-21 despite a 21-point second half from Youngstown as the game was pushed to overtime.
Despite blowing the lead, Jester Weah snagged an 11-yard TD pass in the opening possession of OT to secure a victory that should have come much easier. Max Browne threw 17 of 24 for completion, but had just 140 total yards and averaged only 5.8 yards per reception. The backfield was active, though, in amassing 208 total yards, getting 91 from Qadree Ollison, 77 from Quadree Henderson and another 52 from Darrin Hall.
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Browne struggled in rushing from the QB position, losing 20 yards on his five carries. He had six receivers with 10 yards or more, but Matt Flanagan led the team with just 35 total receiving yards. Comparing that to the success Youngstown had moving the ball is problematic, as Pitt’s defense surrendered 311 passing yards and two passing TDs, not to mention giving up another 107 via the rush. Pitt will need much better defense against a tougher team in Week 2, which has Penn State factoring as heavy 20.5 point favorites according to college football oddsmakers at 5dimes. The over/under is set high at 68 points, too, indicating the type of offensive dominance expected from PSU in Week 2. Can Pitt’s defense rise to the challenge and make this a game?
The defense returns seven starters, including Jason Cabinda and Marcus Allen. Allen contemplated entering the NFL draft, but PSU is quite pleased to return one of its top defensive talents in a unit that was pretty decent last year. PSU gave up 25.4 points per game and ranked top-50 in rush and pass defense. Just being that solid again would be enough to propel this team to contention, given the beaming things we’ve already touched on with their offensive talents. There are some question marks in the secondary, particularly at the cornerback positions, where Grant Haley is one certainty but the other spot remains murky.
Last week, it was Dennis Briggs who brought the most defensive impact with six solo tackles and seven total tackles. Oluwasen Idowu had seven tackles (5 solo) and Elijah Zeise had another six tackles (4 solo). Pitt had just four tackles for loss and only one sack in the game, and its defense will have to seek more plays against PSU to have any chance of slowing the Nittany Lions pass attack or star running back Saquon Barkley. Barkley had a huge Week 1 with 14 carries for 172 yards and a pair of TDs.
The Nittany Lions had 247 rushing yards in its 52-0 victory over Akron, and Tracey McSorley was also effective with a 72 percent completion ratio and 280 yards. McSorley threw a pair of TD passes to Mike Gesicki, who had 58 yards on six catches. Juwan Johnson had 84 yards on four catches, including a 33-yard play. The PSU offense amassed 569 total yards, and to see Pitt go from struggling to contain Youngstown to stopping the powerful Nittany Lions, would be surprising, to say the least.
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Overall, the Panthers should win more games than last season, only because the defense will be better. Browne will have to be everything that Nate Peterman was last season, and there are lingering questions as to whether he really can be after sitting low in the depth chart at USC. He lost his starting role there, but Pitt gives him plenty of talent to prove himself to be the quarterback he was once billed to be.
Pittsburgh should challenge for an ACC Coastal title and improve on last season’s eight wins, but college football oddsmakers have the over/under set at just seven. We like the over for the Panthers, even if it is tenuously resting on the improvement of Browne and a defense that was hardly effective in 2016.
Pitt should struggle mightily to do anything with PSU on the defensive end. Even if the Panthers are able to get the ball in the end zone a couple times, this figures to be a lopsided game that the Nittany Lions win by three-TDs-plus. It is a nice value to expect PSU to cover the spread set by college football oddsmakers, even if 20.5 points does seem heady. Pitt is not ready for these boys defensively.