No. 13 Penn State faces Pitt in 100th meeting

Penn State head coach James Franklin reacts to a play in the third quarter of an NCAA college football game against Buffalo in State College, Pa., on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019.

By Mike Gross

mgross@lnpnews.com

STATE COLLEGE - About 50 members of Penn State’s undefeated 1994 team were back at Beaver Stadium Saturday for a reunion and to be honored at halftime.

The team might be the most beloved in Penn State history that did not win a national championship. It finished second in the major polls after winning the Big Ten title and defeating Oregon 38-20 in the Rose Bowl.

The team including two Lancaster-Lebanon League alumni: QB Kerry Collins (Wilson High School) and DL Eric Clair (Elizabethtown).

Collins, an All-American in ‘94, was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2018. He grew up in Lebanon.

Penn State’s honorary captain Saturday was Jeff Hartings, an all-American offensive lineman for the ‘94 team who played 11 years in the NFL and got a Super Bowl ring with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2006.

Nit-notes: Recovering fumbles, normally a more-or-less random thing, has become an issue for Penn State. Its opponents fumbled 24 times last year, and the Lions recovered just seven of them.

Which brings us to about the only good thing in the first half of Saturday’s game from a Penn State standpoint. Just about five minutes into the game, a mob of Lions smothered Buffalo’s Kevin Marks and pried the ball loose. Penn State LB Cam Brown, who led the Lions with three forced fumbles last year, pounced on it.

A small victory. ...

Perhaps the biggest surprise so far in terms of the Penn State roster is the emergence of Keaton Ellis, a true freshman for State College High School.

Ellis appears to be the first-team nickel cornerback. He’s been on the field in passing situations a lot. There was no inkling, preseason, that Ellis was that advanced.

He did get beat one-on-one for a 42-yard gain on a third-and-10 play in the first quarter. …

Two Penn State player suspensions are apparently over. DT Damion Barber (Harrisburg High School) and CB Donovan Johnson, both of whom missed the Idaho game for violations of team rules, were in Saturday’s game early.

Recruiting update: A line of casually-dressed teenagers waiting with their chaperone for a moment on the field with James Franklin before a Penn State is a clear sign that some serious visiting is going on.

The line was longer Saturday than it was for the season opener with Idaho. A couple of interesting names on it:

Theo Johnson, the third-ranked tight end in the high school class of 2020, was in town to see his brother, Dominic, who’s a backup quarterback for Buffalo. The Johnsons are from Windsor, Ontario, Canada. Theo has offers from Georgia, Michigan, Miami and Iowa.

The brother/QB theme also applies to Liam Clifford, a 2021 wide receiver from Cincinnati who’s older bro is Sean Clifford. Liam has offers from Michigan, Michigan State, Duke and Kentucky.

Among the commits in town, the big name is probably 2020 DE Amin Vanover of Montclair, N.J. Vanover had offers from the current recruiting big three, Alabama, Clemson and Georgia.

Penn State’s 2020 class currently ranks 13th in the composite rankings compiled by 24/7 Sports.