All week long, the focus was on the history.
Penn State and Pitt have now played each other 100 times, and the 101st meeting –– if there ever is one –– feels a lifetime away. That was on Micah Parsons’ mind. The sophomore linebacker grew up in the state capital and he understood how much this game would stick in the minds of both fanbases for years to come.
‘“How will I be remembered? Or how will we be remembered?” Parsons said he remembers thinking about this game.
Well, for Parsons and the Nittany Lions’ defense, it’s pretty clear. They’ll probably be remembered for their goal line stand in the fourth quarter.
It started after Pitt wide receiver Taysir Mack went up and caught a 50-50 ball with both Penn State’s Donovan Johnson and Lamont Wade in the area. It was another connection between Mack and quarterback Kenny Pickett in the second half and it set the Panthers up one yard from tying the game.
“Any points would’ve really changed the game,” Parsons said. “That’s something that we preach everyday in practice –– sudden change and really making stops when our backs are against the wall.”
Added Jan Johnson: “We got a chance to meet on the sideline and we’re just talking about [how] we’re not going to let them score, we’re going to do whatever we can to prevent a touchdown.”
On first down, Pickett rolled out to his right, but Cam Brown was chasing after him and Pickett had no choice but to throw it away. Second down.
Then, the Panthers handed the ball off to running back A.J. Davis, but he was hit by Garrett Taylor and Jesse Luketa before he got back to the line of scrimmage. Third down.
As soon as Pickett faked the handoff and began rolling to his right, Brown was already in his face and as he was being brought to the ground, Pickett had to once again throw the ball away. Fourth down.
Down seven, the Pitt offense jogged to the sideline and the field goal unit came out, but the Penn State defense wasn’t convinced the Panthers were going to settle for three.
“We were extra being protective of the fake right there,” Johnson said.
But there was no fake –– only a loud “doink."
Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi stared blankly out at the field as his team headed back to the sideline empty handed and everyone, including Parsons, was confused.
“It’s always a good opportunity to take a chance –– you have nothing to lose,” Parsons said. “If you don’t get it on the one, we’re backed up. It’s situational and different thoughts from different people.”
Parsons wanted he and his teammates to be remembered. It’s probably going to be a while before fans forget that stop and that missed field goal.
“We’re not afraid of that situation,” Johnson said.
The Nittany Lion defense did have to make one more stop in the final seconds of the game, but Brown was once again there to make a play. He needed every bit of his 6-foot-5 frame to get a hand on Pickett’s hail-mary pass.
“It was a sigh of relief,” Brown said, recalling what it was like when he saw the ball hit the ground as time expired.
The Nittany Lion defense has some extra time to breathe and truly process what transpired Saturday at Beaver Stadium. From the defense’s perspective, the game looked a lot like the one a week ago against Buffalo. A slow start, followed by a dominant second half performance.
Last week, the Bulls were able to establish the run early. This week, it was Pickett standing back in the pocket with too much time to throw the ball all over the field.
“We didn’t think we were getting a good enough pass rush in the first half, and I think that was pretty obvious,” Johnson said. “We just have to –– as we continue to improve –– just get after it. We just need to keep improving on playing a full game.”
Big Ten play starts in less than two weeks and even though the Nittany Lions will face a Maryland team that struggled on the road against Temple Saturday, the Terps still showed off its explosive potential in the first two weeks of the season. The Penn State defense isn’t satisfied –– they know what needs to improve.