Penn State, Pitt approaching game in different ways

Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi isn't mincing words this week: Saturday's game against Penn State will be "heated," "different," "gigantic" and "big."

He blacked out the media by making practice off-limits and making no players available. He said he's making it a point to educate his team about the series' history. And he publicly referred to the meeting as a "rivalry" at least eight times this week.

In many ways, James Franklin and Penn State couldn't be treating it more differently.

"I don't think there's a rivalry, to be honest," Nittany Lions offensive guard Ryan Bates said. "They're just games in my eyes, another opportunity to go out and get better."

Added quarterback Trace McSorley: "No, I'm not saying this is a rivalry."

Franklin has historically steered clear of labeling any PSU opponent a rival, and he said in the past he doesn't believe in signature wins. So, in continuing with those themes, he and his team are trying to treat this game like any other.

That doesn't exactly seem to be the case at Pitt.

"It's like I told them, you think [Notre Dame] was big time, wait until Saturday," Narduzzi said Monday. "If that was a rivalry, just wait."

There's no arguing this rivalry -- or whatever you want to call it -- has lost something. Penn State and Pitt last met in 2000 and, in the games of the 1970s and 80s, national championships and top-10 rankings were often on the line. That heyday is gone, but a rich history still remains in its place: Penn State-Pitt dates back to 1893, when the horse-and-buggy remained the primary mode of transportation, and 96 meetings have taken place since.

Narduzzi said, when he first got involved in a major rivalry game, he didn't initially understand its importance. "I want to make sure they don't do the same," he said, referring to this year's Panthers team. "It's my job to make sure they embrace it and understand what it's all about."

Franklin has offered mixed messages on the topic of history. On Tuesday, at his weekly news conference, the third-year head coach acknowledged he addressed the series but "I don't think we have to talk about it a whole lot because they understand and they hear it all the time."

Added linebacker Brandon Bell when asked what he knew of PSU-Pitt, on Wednesday evening: "Not much of anything. [Penn State alum and assistant coach Terry] Smith is 3-1 against those guys, he lets us know. That's pretty much it."

The differing philosophies with this game couldn't be more stark. Franklin has constantly emphasized the importance of sticking to a routine and remaining consistent throughout the week. Narduzzi essentially said the opposite Wednesday.

"Sometimes," he told ESPN's Scott Van Pelt, "just changing the course of what your normal preparation is, is a good thing."

Maybe Franklin's level-headed approach will pay dividends on Saturday. Maybe Narduzzi's emotional appeal to his team will backfire. Or maybe the entire opposite will hold true.

All that has yet to be decided. But, at this point, it's clear both coaches are approaching this game from opposite ends on the spectrum -- and that's evident from the staff on down.

"We're just doing it in a different way," McSorley said.