Depth, rotations assist Penn State defense in limiting Pitt's points

When the buzzer rang on Penn State's 33-14 win over Pittsburgh Saturday, players on defense were ready for a breather.


Steve Manuel/BWI

On the field for a total of 86 plays, as Pitt held possession of the ball for nearly two-thirds of the entire game, it was a welcome relief to hear the final bell.

"That's a ton of plays," senior captain Jason Cabinda said. "Luckily we have a lot of guys who can play on the D-line, at linebacker – all the way through the defense. Those rotations were really important making sure guys were fresh."

Using a variety of players across the unit – a total of 24 defensive players recorded at least one tackle – Penn State was able to hold the Panthers out of the end zone for all but one of their 13 total drives. Although they recorded 342 yards of total offense – a balanced split of 187 passing yards and 155 rushing – scoring was kept to a minimum.

Pitt possessed the ball for 38 minutes and 20 seconds, but even with all that time, combined with 24 first downs compared to PSU's 14, it wasn't enough.

Head coach James Franklin argued in his postgame press conference that time of possession has become an antiquated stat in modern college football. "I don't think it's much of a factor anymore," he said, and the results from Beaver Stadium Saturday backed up his theory.

Pitt almost doubled PSU's time of possession and out-gained it by 30 total yards, but the scoring difference of 19 points is what mattered most.

"The defense was on the field a lot but we were really able to hold them to field goals most of the game, created some turnovers and we played a lot of guys again, played a lot of guys throughout the game, which is going to be important moving forward," head coach James Franklin said. "I saw some of the young guys get on and did some really good things as well, so we'll have to continue to do that."

More important than time of possession, Franklin added, is the number of three-and-outs a defense forces and on Saturday it was three – not including the four drives that were cut short by turnover or safety.

Pitt's first offensive drive ended in an interception by Grant Haley, which set PSU up for its first touchdown of the day. On the next three drives Pitt was forced to punt before Troy Apke notched an interception, which was Max Browne's second on the day.

Right before halftime, the Panthers drove 77 yards on 15 plays to put its first field goal on the board, and on their second drive of the third quarter they drove 59 yards on 9 plays and again were held to a field goal.

"Your backs are against the wall, you have to go out there and make plays," said Cabinda. "You have to do something about it."

They did. Holding the offense to field goals on those drives proved to be crucial in the final outcome, as Pitt's only touchdown came early in the fourth quarter. PSU had the game well in-hand, but it wasn't until Pitt's following offensive drive when the defense sealed the game for good.

On a second-and-10 from their own 4-yard line, Browne flared on a swing pass out to his right to running back Darrin Hall. Deep in their own territory it proved to be Browne's final pass of the game – because of safety Marcus Allen.

"I just read it," Allen said. "I knew it was coming because we practiced that a lot during the week, so I read that and just reacted."

When he lunged in toward the line of scrimmage, he made contact with Hall before he could exit the goal line. When Allen drove him to the ground, it was inside the end zone. For a defensive effort that included a couple interceptions and a forced fumble, this was the icing on the cake: a safety.

It was the first safety Allen recorded in his entire football career.