It hasn’t been the easiest start of the season for the Pittsburgh Panthers. Before camp even began, head coach Pat Narduzzi kicked defensive lineman Rori Blair off the team and suspended two others, including star defensive back Jordan Whitehead, for the first three games of the season. The Panthers survived an opening game scare by FCS member Youngstown State, but then were beaten soundly by Penn State last Saturday.
This week, the high-flying Oklahoma State Cowboys come to the Steel City to battle the Panthers. Oklahoma State is 2-0 after dismantling South Alabama 44-7.
Last season, in the only other meeting between the two schools, Oklahoma State won a 45-38 shootout in Stillwater.
Oklahoma State at Pittsburgh
When: Saturday, Sept. 16 at 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Oklahoma State -14
Three Things to Watch
1. Containing Mason Rudolph and James Washington
In last year’s matchup, Rudolph threw for 540 yards and two touchdowns. More than half (296) of those yards were on connections with Washington. Both of those stars are back and off to strong starts. Rudolph has completed better than 72 percent of his passes through two games with six scoring strikes and no interceptions. Washington only has eight catches, but they have gone for 243 yards and three touchdowns. Pittsburgh ranked 127th in pass defense last year, but the Panthers did a commendable job defending Trace McSorley and the Penn State passing game last week, holding the Nittany Lions to 164 yards on 15-of-28 attempts. But McSorley did toss three touchdown passes and just one interception in the 33-14 victory.
2. Defending Qadree and Quadree
After deferring to James Conner last year, running back Qadree Ollison seems to have returned to his freshman form. The junior from Niagara Falls is averaging 93.5 rushing yards per game in the young season and has scored twice. Classmate Quadree Henderson is always a dangerous weapon whenever the ball is in his hands. Besides being a run/catch threat on offense, he also is one of the nation’s top returners, though he has yet to break loose this year on special teams. Oklahoma State will keep a close eye on both of Pitt’s dynamic playmakers.
3. Maintaining possessions
Throughout the years, turnover margin has been a friend to Oklahoma State. That trend has continued this fall as the Cowboys are already plus-two in that department. Through two games, Pittsburgh is on the other side at minus two. New Panthers quarterback Max Browne is still feeling his way in the Pittsburgh offense, and OSU defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer will try to confuse him at every opportunity. Pittsburgh cannot give Rudolph, Washington, and company extra possessions this Saturday.
For the second year in a row, Pittsburgh plays Penn State and Oklahoma State in consecutive weeks. Last year the Panthers came away with a split and after losing in Happy Valley last weekend, they would be thrilled with the same result this time around. But that will be a tall task against this Cowboys team. Not only does Oklahoma State feature one of the best pass-catch combinations in the country, they also have a solid running game led by Justice Hill. With Jordan Whitehead — and middle linebacker Quintin Wirginis — still suspended, stopping the Cowboys will be difficult. Pittsburgh enters this game 100th in FBS in total offense, a number that is even more alarming considering one of its opponents was an FCS team. With the game at home, the Panthers will keep it close for a while. But the Cowboys will eventually pull away and win this game quite easily.
Prediction: Oklahoma State 38, Pittsburgh 20
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.