Pitt’s upset of Miami does Penn State a favor

If Penn State needed advance notice on how teams whose seasons seem dead in the water can be dangerous — especially at home and especially against an old, familiar opponent — Pitt delivered that warning loudly and clearly on Friday afternoon at Heinz Field.

The Panthers’ victory over No. 2 Miami should put the Nittany Lions on upset alert today as they venture into College Park, Maryland, to play a team they’ve dominated over the years.

There would be no better way for the Terps to close out a 4-7 season than with a win over the Lions, who share valuable recruiting territory.

While Maryland’s season has been disappointing, the Terps did open the year with a stunning win at Texas. They’ve since endured a number of injuries, especially at quarterback, which is why the Lions are favored by 22 points.

This matchup has typically meant more to Maryland than it has to Penn State, which is what makes it a bit dangerous for the Lions. Though PSU leads the all-time series (37-2-1), Maryland has generally played the Nits fairly tough.

In the first two years the Terps were Big Ten members, the teams split a pair of one-point games. Penn State, granted, was still shaking off the effects of the sanctions and controlled the Terps last year at Beaver Stadium, 38-14.

Though their road schedule has been tougher than the home schedule, the Lions have not played as well away from home, adding to today’s challenge.

In that regard, with the Nittany Lions still in line for an attractive bowl matchup, Pitt’s win Friday probably did Penn State a favor by showing what a three-touchdown underdog is capable of at home if the favorite’s mindset isn’t quite right.

The Panthers’ victory could also benefit Penn State in that, with Miami blemished — and probably headed for another loss in the ACC final — it likely will open up another spot for an at-large team to one of the New Year’s Six Games (even though they aren’t all played on New Year’s Day.)

One more thought about Pitt: Friday’s win, coupled with the success Pat Narduzzi has had against big-name teams (PSU and Clemson last year, now Miami this year), has to get Panther fans further excited and optimistic about the Nittany Lions’ visit to Heinz Field on Sept. 8, 2018.

Nitpicking …

n James Franklin took some offense to the media raising questions about Saquon Barkley’s future — relative to his NFL plans and whether he’d play in a bowl game — as Barkley approached what likely was his final game at Beaver Stadium last week against Nebraska. From this view, though, Barkley’s response (that he intended to play in a bowl game) was the best message Penn State could get out. If Barkley would be on the fence publicly, the Lions would lose some of their bowl attractiveness.

n Beefing up the pass rush has got to be a priority. It’s one reason the Lions haven’t produced as many turnovers. Ohio State, Michigan State and Nebraska exploited the Lions’ secondary with second-half comebacks. Few teams are deep enough to lose their starting defensive ends (Torrence Brown, Ryan Buchholz) to injury without missing a beat, and the Lions are proving that.

n The player I thought would be coming along more quickly at linebacker is Cam Brown.

n Offensive line is one position that typically doesn’t use many substitutes, unless it’s out of necessity (injury). That’s why redshirt freshman Michael Menet seeing action a couple series at guard last week was a welcome opportunity for an anticipated young player who hasn’t been used in meaningful situations in his two seasons.

n Two former PSU defensive coordinators will be moving on from their current assignments. Bob Shoop was James Franklin’s first DC (who came with him from Vanderbilt) but left the Lions before the 2016 season for Tennessee, because he thought the Vols were trending upward. Shoop is now in a legal dispute over his contract with Penn State. Now that head coach Butch Jones has been fired, Shoop will be out after today’s season finale with Vanderbilt. Tom Bradley, a longtime fixture on Joe Paterno’s staff and the Lions’ interim head coach after JoePa was dismissed in 2011, has been the defensive coordinator at UCLA for the past three seasons after serving in a same capacity at West Virginia. Bradley will be on his way out of UCLA and will probably move back East after Bruins’ head coach Jim Mora Jr. was fired on Sunday.

Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or nrudel@altoonamirror.com.