The city of Pittsburgh is abuzz ahead of the matchup with Pitt and Penn State at Heinz Field on Saturday night, but the game is likely to be impacted by some bad weather, as the remnants of Hurricane Gordon have arrived in town and peppered the Steel City with a steady rain for hours.
That’s expected to continue and perhaps worsen as the game gets underway, as the National Weather Service issued a flood watch for the Pittsburgh area late Saturday morning. The flood watch will be in effect from 8 p.m. Saturday, when the game kicks off, until 8 p.m. Monday.
River flood watch issued for 22 forecast points in our area including the city of Pittsburgh. Here is where you can see the forecast crest heights. https://t.co/DBZeEdaU47— NWS Pittsburgh (@NWSPittsburgh) September 8, 2018
In addition to dampening the legions of tailgaters and fans heading to the North Shore to take in the game, the rain could turn the matchup into a sloppier affair than expected.
Pitt’s last two notable games in the rain came against the Virginia Cavaliers and the Youngstown State Penguins in 2017, and the effects of the weather varied greatly.
In last year’s season opener, Pitt hosted Youngstown State on a rainy afternoon and struggled to move the ball downfield. Ultimately, the Panthers, who were also starting Max Browne at quarterback for the first time, were able to pull out a 28-21 overtime win. However, they were forced to depend on their running backs, as they rushed for 208 yards and passed for just 140.
It also seemed as if the team shied away from longer passes in the matchup, as it averaged 5.8 yards per pass. That was low even for Browne, who averaged 7.5 on the year. And although Browne managed to avoid throwing an interception in his Pitt debut, he gave up a fumble in the fourth quarter that allowed the Penguins to tie the game and force overtime.
The next month, a Panthers team that appeared to be improving after defeating Duke faced off against a meek Virginia team at Heinz Field. In that matchup, which was a bit more one-sided in Pitt’s favor, the team had no issues with holding onto the ball, as it gave up no fumbles. But Browne’s replacement, Ben DiNucci, did cough up an interception in the third quarter.
It ended up costing the Panthers, as they gave up a touchdown to Virginia shortly thereafter. But that only negated a previous interception by Pitt linebacker Saleem Brightwell that led to the Panthers’ first points of the game back in the first quarter. Once again, an emphasis was placed on the running game, and Pitt’s Darrin Hall posted a 111-yard game in the eventual 31-14 win.
While Pitt will field a different team against Penn State on Saturday night than it did against Youngstown State and Virginia last season, it stands to reason that the running backs will hear their numbers called early and often in the matchup, as they led the offensive attack against Albany last week, collectively amassing 238 yards to Pitt’s 169 passing yards.
Meanwhile, Penn State could find itself more negatively impacted by the weather, as quarterback Trace McSorley plays a larger role in moving the Nittany Lions downfield than Kenny Pickett has for the Panthers this season. Last week against Appalachian State, McSorley threw for 229 yards, while the team rushed for 205. Of course, the team also scored five rushing touchdowns.
With that said, McSorley added 53 yards to the team’s rushing total and came up with three of the team’s six touchdowns himself — two on the ground and one through the air. So if he becomes less of a factor in Saturday’s game, Pitt seems highly likely to benefit from that development.
The matchup between the two teams is set to kick off from Heinz Field at 8 p.m., and it will be televised nationally in ABC’s primetime slot.