Football, Sports, WVU Sports

WVU opens season at Penn State for 1st meeting of long-time rivals in 30 years

MORGANTOWN — For the first time since 1992, West Virginia and Penn State will meet on a football field when the teams kick off the 2023 season Saturday in State College (7:30 p.m., NBC). The former long-time rivals played every year from 1940-92 but did not meet once in the 30 years that followed. 

It’s a series the Mountaineers would rather forget, as West Virginia is just 9-48-2 all-time against the Nittany Lions. While the teams have not played since 1992, WVU has not won a game in Beaver Stadium since 1955.

“It’s kind of a regional rivalry,” WVU center Zach Frazier said on Monday. “I guess it’s an old rivalry.”


So old, in fact, that none of the current players on either side were even alive the last time the teams played. Frazier, from Fairmont, said his only experience with Penn State is watching them on TV.

“Basically just watching night games and White Outs like we’re about to play in,” he said. “That’s going to be exciting, growing up watching those games as a kid and then getting to play in it.”

The renewed series will conclude next season when Penn State makes the return trip to Morgantown.

“This is a regional game, which I think makes sense,” PSU head coach James Franklin said. “I know college football has gotten away from the regional-type games and the regional conferences, but I think it makes sense for both schools.”

The Mountaineers have quite the uphill battle to pull off a feat they haven’t done since Dwight D. Eisenhower was in office as the No. 7 Nittany Lions are currently 20.5-point favorites to start the season 1-0. 

“They’ll probably be the most talented group that we’ll play (this season),” WVU head coach Neal Brown said Monday. “I may be conservative in this, but they’ve got nine draft picks on their two-deep (depth chart) on defense.”

Facing unfavorable odds, Franklin said he expects the Mountaineers to be very aggressive in the game.

“I’ve got a ton of respect for Neal and his background as an offensive coordinator and as a head coach,” Franklin said. “I would anticipate in this type of game that they’re going to go for it on fourth down. That’s something they have confidence in doing and I think that’s going to play a factor in this game.”

PSU went 11-2 last season (7-2 Big Ten), winning the Rose Bowl 35-21 over Utah. The Nittany Lions return two dynamic running backs, most of the pieces from the best pass rush in the Big 12 and have a five-star, No. 1 recruit ready to step in at quarterback.

WVU, meanwhile, finished 5-7 (3-6 Big 12), missing out on a bowl game for the second time in four years. It will be a make-or-break fifth season for Brown as the Mountaineers try to avoid a third consecutive losing season, which hasn’t happened since they had four straight in 1976-79.

Penn State has one of the best running back duos in the country with sophomores Nicholas Singleton and Kaytron Allen. Both as true freshmen last year, the pair combined for 1,928 yards and 22 touchdowns.

“I think they play off each other great, I fully expect to see both of them on the field,” Brown said. “The thing that really sticks out to me with Singleton is you don’t see the speed and the strength combination. You see guys that are fast, you see guys that are big and strong, but you don’t see the combo.”

“Probably two of the top running backs in college football,” WVU safety Aubrey Burks added. “But I see at least four of the top running backs in college football from CJ Donaldson to Justin Johnson to Jaylen Anderson with the running backs we’ve got. I give respect to their running backs, but with the running backs we’ve got, we see that size and that ability every day.”

In Donaldson, Johnson and Anderson, WVU believes it has its own dynamic stable of running backs that can power its offense.

To get those backs going, however, WVU’s offensive line will need to stand up against a talent-laden Penn State defensive front that led the Big Ten with 43 sacks last season.

“Offensively, the strength of our football team is the offensive line and we have to win some one-on-one battles versus probably the most talented groups we’ll play all year,” Brown said. “We played four first-round draft picks last year on the defensive line so it’s not going to be the first time our guys have gone against that kind of talent and they think they’re that kind of talent too.”

Neither team has, or will, announce a starting quarterback prior to kickoff, but there is not a lot of experience on either side regardless.

Franklin said he expects WVU to start junior Garrett Green over redshirt freshman Nicco Marchiol. Greene started the final two games in 2022, throwing for 493 yards, rushing for 276 and scoring 10 total touchdowns.

Penn State is expected to go with sophomore Drew Allar, a former 5-star prospect and the No. 1 quarterback in the 2022 recruiting class. He completed 35 of 60 passes for 344 yards and five touchdowns last season.

“The quarterback they had last year (Sean Clifford) really created a lot of things for them off of pressure and off of pass rush. I don’t see this kid as much different,” WVU defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley said. “While he’s big in stature and people will see him as a pocket guy, he’s sneaky fast, sneaky athletic, he’s a big guy and he’s hard to bring down. I don’t see the structure of the offense as being much different.”

Allar presumably beat out redshirt freshman Beau Pribula for the starting nod.

“Whoever starts will be making their first start ever and there’s some pressure that goes along with that,” Brown said of PSU’s QB options. “We’ve got to make it tough on them, we’ve got to disguise some things and give different looks.”

WVU’s defense failed to make impact plays last season and struggled with tackling early on. A renewed focus on fundamentals and physicality in the offseason is hoped to alleviate those woes.

This game will be the first in NBC’s new “Big Ten Saturday Night” prime-time program and conclude the network’s triple-header, following East Carolina at Michigan at noon and Tennessee State at Notre Dame at 3:30 p.m.