Knocking off Panthers shot in Franklin’s arm

If you put the behavior of both coaches under a microscope, Saturday’s game would seem to mean more to Pat Narduzzi than James Franklin.

Narduzzi, after all, has closed ranks and decided all players are off limits to the media this week, the first time he’s done that in his short Pitt tenure.

James Franklin, meanwhile, wants to split hairs on the definition of the word “rivalry.”

But focus the microscope a little more, and it’s easy to detect that the game means more to Franklin and well it should.

The fact that Penn State is an underdog doesn’t matter.

Franklin doesn’t yet have a signature victory during his two-plus year tenure at Penn State, and while Pitt isn’t Ohio State, Michigan or Michigan State, it is still Pitt.

And a win would give Franklin an(other) opportunity to make good on his promise to “dominate the state,” a statement he now seems to want to back away from, as if recruiting and coaching somehow should be separated.

Another story for another day, for sure.

But after a pair of 7-6s for a fan base that has suffered since November of 2011, beating Pitt would buy Franklin more goodwill than his other best wins – Central Florida, Boston College and a couple over Maryland – have reaped so far.

Beating Pitt would be his best victory, by a long shot, since taking the Penn State job.

Narduzzi can lose and while the Pitt folks will (and should) question how he tightened up this week, let’s face it: His tenure as a head coach has just hit its 15th game.

Franklin, meanwhile, will be in charge of his 67th game Saturday. His experience, dating back to his SEC success at Vanderbilt, has to pay off eventually and has to be an advantage at Heinz Field this week.

Plus his clock is already ticking, albeit slowly in the fact that he’s already been through firing a top comrade, offensive coordinator John Donovan, and clearly needs to start beating teams that matter.

And regardless of whether his players were in nursery school the last time the teams met, one sniff of the atmosphere Saturday ought to convince Franklin that this game matters.

It would also help him get a leg up on the four-game renewal of the Pitt series.

Narduzzi can lose this game, even though it’s at home, and not fear that his support is eroding.

Even though most figure the Lions for 7-5 or worse this year, Franklin cannot say the same thing.

If he beats Pitt, barring a total collapse as this season unfolds, he would finally have a peg on which to hang his hat.

Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or