College football: Penn State's win over Pitt 'feels' good after last season's loss
STATE COLLEGE -- Trace McSorley played in four state finals in high school and the Big Ten title game and the Rose Bowl last year.
As Penn State's starting quarterback, McSorley has always been regarded as a calm, focused and poised leader.
But when the fourth-ranked Nittany Lions played Pittsburgh Saturday, McSorley admitted that his nerves affected him because he remembered the late interception he threw in the end zone last year.
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"With how last year (a 42-39 loss at Pitt) ended, that played a lot into it."
No matter how hard Penn State coach James Franklin tried to make the 98th meeting between the longtime rivals just another game, it wasn't for many of his players.
The Lions badly wanted to make amends for last year's defeat and did, decisively beating the Panthers 33-14 before a sellout crowd of 109,898 at Beaver Stadium.
"This was cool," said wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton, who dropped a pass behind the Pitt defense last year in the fourth quarter. "But I still would have wanted to win last year. I'm not really dwelling on the past, but this one feels good."
Franklin, on the other hand, continued to maintain that the Pittsburgh game was the Lions' biggest game. Of the week.
"The most important thing is that we're 1-0 this week and we were able to get a win," he said. "That's what that was for us. I know last year for them, it was like the Super Bowl. But for us, this was just like beating Akron.
"You can interpret it however you want. Last week we beat Akron and it was a great win. This week we beat Pittsburgh and it was a great win. (But) it was no more significant than last week."
It was very significant for running back Saquon Barkley, who agreed with teammates Marcus Allen and Shareef Miller that the Lions were disrespected last year at Heinz Field. It was a loss that helped keep Penn State out of the College Football Playoff.
"You're supposed to celebrate when you win," Barkley said. "But I think they (Pitt fans) were too excited. It was Week 2. They acted like they won the national championship. They held onto that win the whole season.
"They took it too far. You guys saw the signs and heard what they were saying."
After Pitt held Barkley to 22 all-purpose yards in the first half Saturday, he broke loose in the second half. In the third quarter, he beat linebacker Saleem Brightwell down the middle of the field to catch a 46-yard touchdown pass from McSorley, which made it 21-3.
"We didn't score for a while," said Miller, a defensive end who had two sacks. "That brought everybody up. We fed off that play."
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Barkley plowed through the Panthers for an 8-yard touchdown. He finished with 183 all-purpose yards: 88 on 14 carries, 45 on four receptions and 50 on two kickoff returns.
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But the offense, which gained just 312 total yards, took a backseat to the Penn State defense and special teams for a change.
The Lions held the Panthers to one touchdown in four trips inside the Penn State 20. Grant Haley's first-quarter interception set up a touchdown.
Allen, a free safety, made 12 tackles and dropped running back Darrin Hall for a safety in the fourth quarter.
"I would say that's our job," Allen said. "We signed up for this. If the offense is not getting it done, we have to pick them back up. Same thing with us. They have to have our back. That ain't nothing new."
Penn State controlled field position all afternoon with kicker Tyler Davis, punter Blake Gillikin, punt returner DeAndre Thompkins and terrific coverage.
The Lions held All-American Quadree Henderson to a paltry 33 yards on five kick returns.
"He could have been a game-wrecker," Franklin said.
The memory of Henderson running up and down the field and losing to Pitt motivated at least some of the Lions.
"I took this game personally," Miller said, "because they (Pitt fans) disrespected Penn State and our head coach. When we lost, they were disrespectful. I didn't forget any of that."
This article is written by Rich Scarcella from Reading Eagle, Pa. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.