Penn State at Pittsburgh
Saturday, 9 am PT - ESPN
CRIS Opener: Pittsburgh -6.5 O/U 51
CRIS Current: Pittsburgh -6 O/U 49
Recommendation: Penn State
It’s always tough to be definitive on all teams after Week 1's results are in because there are so many variables. In this contest it’s pretty easy to take away a common theme of inconsistent offense and above average defense for each of these teams after they unimpressively disposed of Kent State by 20 and Villanova by 21. Neither of those final scores resulted in pointspread covers and neither lived up to the offseason hype surrounding these teams. There did however seem to be a difference between their respective offensive game plans and while Penn State’s was aggressive, it seemed as if Pittsburgh’s was more of the vanilla variety. Question is, if Pittsburgh was vanilla, did they play call it that way by design to hide some offensive elements from Penn State, or is the passing game not equipped to be a legitimate threat and balance the running of running back James Conner?
For Penn State, it was obvious that first-year offensive coordinator Joe Moorehead wants to throw the ball more and be more explosive. While new starting quarterback Trace McSorely has the tools to fit James Franklin’s system, it seemed evident that he’s really going to have to develop as a deep thrower to make Moorehead’s system consistently productive. Aside from a series of on target out patterns to top receiver Chris Godwin, Mc Sorely was a bust (16-of-31, 209 yards) in the season opener and under threw a handful of deep routes. The offensive play calling tilted more toward the run (55% pass, 45% runs) due in large part because of a sizable second half margin.
Each team faced a solid lower level defensive team in their opener but now these offenses will be confronted with a sizeable step up in class. After watching Villanova stack the line of scrimmage last week and dare Pitt quarterback Nate Peterman to throw, you can be sure Penn State will employ the same tactics. Unless Pitt was hiding some of their aerial playbook for this game, the Nittany Lions defense should be able to sell out and have a good day. Expect Pittsburgh to focus on stopping the PSU ground game as well and test McSorley’s ability to force them out of that philosophy. Bettors are really looking at two mirror images who will play at a high intensity level as this heated rivalry is revived after a 16-year hiatus. I'll side with Penn State because of its new expansive playbook which seems better suited to keep the Pitt defense honest in a game where +6 seems even larger.