Penn State, Pitt keep same approaches headed into Saturday's showdown

(Wilkes-Barre) Times-Leader (TNS)
  • Penn State and Pitt will face off at Beaver Stadium on Saturday.
  • Pitt beat Penn State a season ago, 42-39.

Saturday’s showdown with Pitt, James Franklin said, “is the most important game in the universe.”

Until next week, that is, when the Nittany Lions’ meeting with Georgia State becomes the most important game in the universe.

Penn State head coach James Franklin says his team's No. 1 goal in scheduling is finding the best way to win the Big Ten title.

This, of course, is no surprise. Since taking over as Penn State’s coach, Franklin has preached absolute consistency in preparing for every opponent, no matter the history or the stakes. A rematch with the Panthers wasn’t going to change that.

Nor was it going to change anything in Pittsburgh, where Panthers coach Pat Narduzzi has again hunkered down, cutting off all media access to his players, assistant coaches and practices. He used the same tactic on this week last season as Pitt pulled out a 42-39 victory in the highly entertaining resumption of the dormant rivalry.

“I don’t want people to take what I’m saying the wrong way,” Franklin said Tuesday at his weekly press conference. “This is the Super Bowl for us because it’s the game that we play Saturday. Last week our Super Bowl was Akron. So I think when I say these things, people act like I’m trying to say that the Pitt game is not a big game. It’s a huge game. It is the most important game that we have on our schedule.

“Last week, that was the most important game that we had on our schedule. Next week, we’ll talk about next week. But that’s just how we’re going to approach it. Always have, always will. It’s not going to change.”

Twenty-four hours earlier, Narduzzi expressed the opposite view, placing added importance on Saturday’s game.

“I think I said it last year that it’s not another weekend. It’s a big game. It really is,” Narduzzi told reporters in Pittsburgh on Monday. “And I want our guys locked in. It’s an in-state rivalry, at least for us, and we’re going to prepare for it that way.

“… I know it’s a rivalry game for us, but some people think it’s a rivalry game, some people don’t. It doesn’t matter what they think. It just matters what we think. And if we think it is, then it is for us, and it doesn’t have to be for them.”

Franklin, who has steadfastly avoided the word “rivalry” as it relates to any opponent in his four seasons at Penn State, countered with this:

“I guess what I don’t understand is — are we supposed to prepare harder this week than we did last week?” he said. “I mean, if we didn’t play well, and I said, ‘Well, yeah, we didn’t prepare as hard this week because we’ve got this game next week that’s a big game,’ — I don’t get it. It never makes sense to me.”

More honors for Barkley: Lions tailback Saquon Barkley split Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors with Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett on Monday. On Tuesday, he picked up a national accolade, being named Rose Bowl Player of the Week for his 246 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns against the Zips.

It’s 20 of those all-purpose yards that had some people scratching their heads at the time. Leading 35-0, Penn State sent Barkley out to return the opening kickoff of the second half, a role Barkley has said he would like to take on more often.

Franklin revealed Tuesday that the coaches told Barkley that he would get to go out there on the first kick return of the game. But since Akron never scored, that didn’t come until the start of the third quarter.

“I know everybody keeps talking about that they felt like the game was in hand,” Franklin said. “Well, if anybody watched college football this weekend, I don’t know if you necessarily could say that. I’m very comfortable with that, and we’ll continue to do that.”

Lions move up to No. 4: As it turns out, this week’s AP and coaches polls are exactly what Penn State had hoped to see last December from the College Football Playoff committee.

No. 1 Alabama. No. 2 Ohio State. No. 3 Clemson. No. 4 Penn State.

It was Washington that claimed that fourth and final spot in the Playoff last year.

Though these polls are just window dressing until the committee releases its first set of rankings on Halloween, it seems the Lions did manage to impress some voters with their 52-0 demolition of Akron in the opener.

In both polls, Penn State jumped Florida State — which lost its game vs. the Crimson Tide and its quarterback, Deondre Francois, to a season-ending knee injury — and USC, which struggled to put away Western Michigan.

Infirmary report

►Starting defensive end Shareef Miller only played the first series against Akron before leaving with an apparent leg injury. But after the game he wrote on Twitter that he’ll be fine to play against Pitt.

►Safety Ayron Monroe was one of the few non-freshman defenders who didn’t see the field against the Zips. But it doesn’t sound like it was for injury reasons.

Franklin was asked if Monroe, who was in uniform and participated in warm-ups, would be available for this week.

“Correct,” Franklin said.