Narduzzi stresses rivalry’s importance

Pitt coach says he ‘grew up’ with game

The rivalry between Pittsburgh and Penn State is one that dates back nearly 100 years.

The two teams have played each other a total of 98 times, with this Saturday’s contest marking the 99th installment in the in-state clash. The Nittany Lions have not played more games against any other opponent, while the Panthers only have a longer history against West Virginia.

Once considered one of the most important college football rivalry north of the Mason-Dixon line, this intrastate rivalry was deemed the biggest annual game for both schools for a large part of their histories.

The series took a 16-year hiatus that began in 2000 before it recently returned as the “Keystone Classic” in 2016.

This is a game that means a lot both regionally, and nationally, something that Pittsburgh coach Pat Narduzzi is well aware of.

“We’ve said this all the time in these rivalry games, you either walk the streets or you’re going to walk the alleys after the game,” Narduzzi said. “You’re going to sneak out of Heinz Field, walk where you don’t have to see anybody, or walk out with your chest up and chin up.”

Narduzzi, like many college football fans in Pennsylvania and the Ohio River Valley, has a long history with the game, dating all the way back to his childhood.

“I grew up with this game back in the day when I lived in Youngstown, Ohio,” Narduzzi said. “You grew up with this Pitt-Penn State rivalry. It’s been a game that has meant a lot to a lot of people for a long time now.”

On the other side of the field, Penn State coach James Franklin has been vocal on his thoughts on this game and how it is just like any other game on the schedule.

Last fall, Franklin said that: “(In 2016) for their win it was like the Super Bowl, but for us this was just like beating Akron.”

Whether Franklin was saying that as a bit of gamesmanship toward Pittsburgh is up for debate, but he does have a well-documented history with Narduzzi since the series started up again in 2016.

In fact, Franklin going after Pittsburgh in the postgame press conference is somewhat reminiscent of Narduzzi after beating Penn State two years ago.

After Pitt’s win, Franklin complained that the Panthers had been illegally clapping to throw off Penn State’s snap cadence. Narduzzi said he “guessed that was just another excuse.”

When asked about this year’s Penn State team, Narduzzi was quick to praise senior quarterback Trace McSorley.

“(McSorley) is a Heisman Trophy candidate, maybe the frontrunner for it, because he can throw it, he can run it, he can make plays,” Narduzzi said. “He’s an emotional leader, he’s the leader of that team.”

Often referred to as a coach with defense-first mindset, Narduzzi identified some of Penn State’s weapons that could present the hosts with a problem this weekend.

“You got a lot of weapons whether it’s Juwan Johnson out there,” Narduzzi said. “You look at KJ Hamler, who we recruited out of high school. I know how explosive that guy is in the slot.”

In his final thoughts on the matchup, Narduzzi pointed out that regardless of the animosity between the two programs, pulling off the upset will be a challenge on Saturday.

“They’ve obviously got a great football team and a great program,” he said. “You guys can say what you want, they’re talented, got great players. We’re looking forward to having them come to Heinz Field again.”