Pitt athletic director Heather Lyke had good, but not unexpected, news Tuesday morning when she announced the Penn State game on Saturday, Sept. 8, at Heinz field will be a sellout.
The 99th game of what used to be one of college football’s greatest rivalries kicks off at 8 p.m. and will be televised by ABC, but it will be the last Penn State-Pitt game in Pittsburgh for the foreseeable future.
When Pitt and Penn State resumed their series in 2016, the game attracted the largest crowd to watch a sporting event in Pittsburgh (69,983).
Lyke said she doesn’t know what percentage of the crowd will be Pitt fans and how many will be cheering for Penn State. But she did say the three-game mini-package the Pitt ticket office is selling does not include the Penn State game. Two years ago, it did.
“There are a lot of Penn State fans who are relatively close,” she said. “I’m sure there’s going to be a decent showing. But I expect our fans to outnumber and out-cheer Penn State.”
Pitt has taken some measures to ensure that happens.
Assistant athletic director Ben Smith said his office has sold “about 50,000 season tickets,” including 10,000 allotted for students who now will be spread all the way across the end zone farthest from the Ohio River.
“It’s up from last season,” he said of the overall sales. Also, Pitt held back some tickets to honor requests for additional seats from its season-ticket holders.
“We’re actually tracking a little bit behind of where we did in 2016,” he said. “And that’s kind of by design. Different from 2016, we were able actually to fulfill all of our requests from our season-ticket holders, which is something we wanted to accomplish this year. In 2016, we had to turn a lot of people away from additional seats.”
The sellout does not preclude people going to the secondary market for tickets. In fact, Lyke said Pitt has formed a partnership with StubHub.
“We want people to know that is a very safe and secure place to purchase tickets for the Penn State game,” she said.
Basketball ticket sales up: Smith also said basketball season-ticket sales are up “significantly.”
“Far and away a drastic improvement.”
He said nearly 1,000 new season tickets have been sold, thanks in part to the buzz created by new coach Jeff Capel.
“The phone conversations (with fans) are a heckuva lot different for us this year than they were last year,” he said.
Pitt QB excels in practice: Not that he’s setting any records or rewriting history by doing well in practice, but Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett reached a distinction through the first 10 days of training camp.
He did not throw an interception. “And I don’t plan on it,” he said.
Pickett believes — and Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi mentioned it himself Monday — that the deep passing game will improve this season. The presence of speedy wide receivers Maurice Ffrench and Shocky Jacques-Louis and the return of Dontavius Butler-Jenkins from a season-ending knee injury in 2017 also may help.
“You can’t coach against speed,” Pickett said.
Pitt’s quarterbacks — and there were three of them, plus punter Ryan Winslow last season — averaged 11.7 yards per completion last season, down from 15.2 with Nathan Peterman in 2016.
Pickett said Jacques-Louis’ speed also may help spread out the defense.
“When he pushes vertical and snaps off a route underneath,” Pickett said, “he has so much cushion because of how fast he is, the defense is scared of him being beating them deep.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.