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Know Your Enemy: Pitt-PSU Q&A with BSD

SB Nation’s Penn State site answers our questions ahead of the big game

NCAA Football: Kent State at Penn State Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Pitt-Penn State is almost here, folks. With that, we’ve gathered some intel on the Nittany Lions’ side of things with Aaron Yorke of SB Nation’s Penn State site, Black Shoe Diaries. Check out his answers to my questions below and be sure to head over there for my answers to his questions.

James Franklin really seemed to downplay the importance of the game while Pat Narduzzi went in the opposite direction. Given the nature of the in-state recruiting and the long (albeit old) history of the rivalry, do you think Franklin is privately telling his players the same thing or do you think it's a bigger deal to him than he's willing to let on?

I don't like to speculate on what coaches may or may not be doing behind closed doors, but I'm guessing that this rivalry game is a bigger deal to Franklin than he's letting on. When the coach first signed on with Penn State, his big mantra was "Dominate the State," and that meant getting the best recruits from not only Pennsylvania, but the surrounding areas as well. He won't look very good if his squad, which is first starting to feature some of the players he recruited, gets beat by Pitt, even if the Panthers are the more experienced team.

Just how hot is Franklin's seat at the moment? Warm? Not hot at all? He has recruited very well, but I wonder at what point does the fanbase expect more.

I think a lot of college football fans outside of Happy Valley believe that Franklin's job is less secure than it is. I'm hoping that athletic director Sandy Barbour is patient enough with Franklin to allow him to coach the players he's done such a good job recruiting. The failure of Christian Hackenberg to grow into a solid quarterback under Franklin is a bad look, but nobody knows how much of that is the coach's (or the offensive coordinator's) fault. With a more experienced offensive line this year to go with a new quarterback and a talented backs and receivers group, Franklin and new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead will have a better chance to mold the offense into an effective unit. If the team still isn't competing with the big boys in a couple of years, Franklin will be under pressure, but his job isn't in serious jeopardy this year unless he misses a bowl game.

I've long made the point that Pitt and Penn State should play whenever possible for many reasons. As long as they are in the 7-8 win era, Pitt surely needs it from a ticketing standpoint. However, I think it benefits Penn State as well. There are a lot of factors at play here, but all things considered, playing Pitt instead of teams like Temple and Kent State is just more fun, isn't it? I know that most Pitt fans would rather see Penn State on the schedule than Villanova, FIU, etc.

It's definitely going to be more fun than Temple this year! Even if we count games like Temple and Kent State as automatic wins, though, playing the Panthers adds more juice to the schedule because they're a historic rival and a major-conference opponent. This game gets fans and alumni excited about college football in September, and that's great for both programs. I couldn't agree more that these teams should play each other every year.

Sandy Barbour made some statements earlier that sort of raised some eyebrows about Penn State not necessarily needing a rival. Do you think the fans want a rival and/or do they feel they have rivals in the Big Ten? Are her thoughts in tune with what most Penn State fans think?

I can't speak for all Penn State fans, but I think most of them would like to be considered rivals with Ohio State and Michigan. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like the program is on that level yet. On the other hand, if Penn State is drawing 90,000 or more fans to games against even mediocre opponents, it's easy to say that the Lions don't need a big-time rivalry game on their schedule. Still, you can't say that the football calendar isn't more fun with rivalry games on it. I'll say that Penn State might not need a rival, but it should want one. With this Penn State vs. Pitt game recently gaining the "Keystone Classic" moniker, I'm hoping that it turns into an annual clash. If not, there's always that makeshift rivalry with Michigan State to fall back on. The trophy might not be pretty, but the two programs have the potential for some very competitive matchups over the next few years.

I've been very impressed with Saquon Barkley - that kid's a star. I feel that both teams are going to try to establish the run. Just how dangerous is Penn State's passing attack, though?

The jury is still out on how effective Penn State's passing attack might be this year. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Trace McSorley impressed last January with a pair of touchdowns strikes after he came in for an injured Hackenberg during the TaxSlayer Bowl against Georgia. He followed that up with a nearly perfect spring game that helped him earn the starting job over talented freshmen Tommy Stevens and Jake Zembiec. McSorley's debut as a starter against Kent State didn't go as well as I hoped, but he still threw for another two touchdown passes with zero interceptions. There's a lot of room for him to grow alongside a bevy of talented receivers led by Chris Godwin, and we could see Barkley more heavily featured in the passing game as well.

Like Pitt did against Villanova, Penn State struggled a little coming out of the gate against Kent State. Can you talk a little about that game - what the Nittany Lions did well/not so well?

Penn State made some mistakes early in the Kent State game that allowed the Golden Flashes to hang around. Specifically, the Lions missed on a seemingly superfluous two-point conversion attempt following their first touchdown and later had McSorley get sacked, allowing Kent State to run in a fumble for a touchdown. Other than that disastrous play, Penn State did a a good job of protecting the quarterback and feeding Barkley. However, McSorley failed to take advantage. He missed on a few deep throws and averaged just 6.7 yards per pass attempt. On defense, the Lions were gashed by tailback Justin Rankin for 82 yards on 13 carries despite Kent State failing to throw the ball effectively all day. The best parts of the day for Penn State fans were freshman punter Blake Gillikin averaging 47 yards on six kicks and redshirt freshman Shareef Miller notching two sacks for a front line that is supposed to be the weakest part of the Penn State defense. The back seven pitched in with interceptions by linebacker Brandon Bell and cornerback Amani Oruwariye, who took his in for a touchdown.

What do you expect to see on Saturday? Give us a prediction.

I think scoring will be at a premium on Saturday with Penn State winning 20-13. With no Tyler Boyd out there, the Pitt passing attack seemed quite pedestrian against Villanova, so I'm hoping that allows the Lions to stack the box and keep James Conner from making too many big plays.