Penn State coach James Franklin compared beating Pittsburgh last week to the previous Saturday’s win over Akron. At the time, it felt like a sick burn that would fan the flames of a heated intra-state rivalry. On Saturday, it felt like a spot-on description of reality.
A week after falling 33–14 to the Nittany Lions in State College, the Panthers got blown off the field at home by Oklahoma State in the first half. The Cowboys’ offense cut through Pittsburgh’s defense like it was a Mid-American Conference unit manned by zero-star recruits.
Oklahoma State led the Panthers 49–14 at the break after quarterback Mason Rudolph completed 20 of his 28 passing attempts for 423 yards and five touchdowns with zero interceptions. Tailback Justice Hill added 91 rushing yards on 11 carries with two rushing touchdowns. Rudolph was pulled as Mike Gundy called off the dogs in the third quarter, finishing with 497 yards in a 59–21 Cowboys win.
The Oklahoma State offense grilled Pittsburgh early on, and things only got worse. The Panthers had no answers on how to stop Oklahoma State through the air or on the ground. Oklahoma State’s offense is white-hot, and the Panthers’ poured kerosene into its engine with their coverage blunders.
Pittsburgh wasn’t expected to roll out a formidable defense this season, which might seem odd considering head coach Pat Narduzzi’s reputation as a defensive ace in his previous stop as a coordinator at Michigan State. But this was only the continuation of a dismal run on that side of the ball.
The Panthers ranked 87th and 76th in yards per play allowed the last two years, and their top defender, safety Jordan Whitehead, is suspended for the first three games of this season, leaving them even less equipped to tame Oklahoma State’s propulsive attack.
A week after Oklahoma put the Big 12 on the map with a monumental road win at Ohio State, the Cowboys sent a message that the Sooners aren’t the only team in the conference with a serious shot at making a run at the College Football Playoff. The Sooners will pose a much greater defensive challenge than Pittsburgh in their matchup in November in Stillwater, but if Rudolph and his crew of electric wide receivers are clicking, Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops will have a lot more to worry about than he did in Columbus last week.
We can table the Bedlam talk for now. Right now, Pittsburgh needs to get its act together to stave off more comparisons to MAC teams. With all due respect to the Panthers, Akron could have probably done a better job putting up a fight against Oklahoma State.