Know Your Penn State Football Enemy: Pittsburgh Panthers

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 19: Quadree Henderson
PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 19: Quadree Henderson /

Penn State football suffered its second toughest loss of the season to a sneaky Pittsburgh squad in week two. Now, the Nittany Lions look to start faster in 2017.

A game many Penn State football fans would like to forget came early in the 2016 campaign. The Nittany Lions dug themselves out of a 28-7 hole to the Pitt Panthers in week two and nearly came back to clinch a 2-0 start. Despite a never-say-die attitude, Pitt held on with a late interception to win 42-39.

The two teams ended up on different trajectories by the end of the season. If Penn State played them a little later on, the result might’ve been different. Still, the pesky Panthers earned their win. For the Nittany Lions to bounce back this season, they’ll need to take advantage of Pitt’s position losses.

Pitt went just 8-5 in 2016 but won marquee matchups against Penn State and eventual national champion Clemson. Quarterback Nathan Peterman and running back James Conner created a high-scoring offense averaging 40.9 points per game. Even with an all-world offense, the team ranked near the bottom of the league in points against at 35.2 per game.

This year, the Panthers return just 10 starters off last year’s roster and lost some major players including Peterman and Conners. On defense, the team lost its tackling leader (Matt Galambos), and sack leader (Ejuan Price) as well. Head coach Pat Narduzzi had a quality first two seasons going 16-10. But, he’ll need some replacement players to step up quick to have a nice season in 2017.

USC graduate transfer Max Browne likely takes over Peterman. He will be in a quarterback battle with last year’s backup Ben DiNucci amongst a host of youngsters. whoever wins will have some weapons capable of making plays.

Wide receiver Quadree Henderson starred last season as a runner and receiver to the tune of 917 scrimmage yards and six touchdowns. In addition, he’s an explosive return man taking three kick returns and one punt return back for a touchdown.

On the other side, leading receiver Jester Weah might be one of the better kept secrets in the nation. At 6-foot-3, 210-pounds, he’s a terrifying deep threat that compiled 870 yards and 10 touchdowns on 24.2 yards per catch.

Running back Qadree Ollison will try to recapture his 2015 magic. Ollison rushed for 1,121 yards and was the ACC Rookie of the Year. His reps decreased when Conner returned, and he lost reps to two other backs. If Ollison can regain his tread, this offense has balance and big-play ability for sure.

For Penn State football’s defense, they’ll be running into the Panthers early on the in the season. If the Panthers are still working out the kinks, the Nittany Lions will dominate them. Linebacker U brings loads of contributors on the defense, and they’ll swarm and play downhill.

Defensively, Pitt’s struggles won’t end after last season. They bring back just four starters most of which are in the secondary.

The Panthers gave up 333.2 yards per game through the air so bringing multiple starters there will help. Avonte Maddox will be a player to watch especially with fellow starter Jordan Whitehead suspended. The duo recorded 114 total tackles and four interceptions last year, but Maddox will lone wolf it against the Nittany Lions. However, the team’s strong rush defense will take a hit with just two of the team’s front seven back.

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Trace McSorley, Saquon Barkley and company should take advantage of their struggles on the ground. Although the pass defense will be better a lack of starters up front could allow McSorley to pick apart the Panthers. Once Penn State settled in last year, the team put up 39 points. Expect something similar this year, as the Nittany Lions won’t be fooled again.