QUICK LOOK AT THE SERIES
The series is tied 3-3, and despite being just six games old, has had its share of bizarre happenings--a lot to do with interceptions.
2004 - Pitt travels to Hartford for a Thursday night game in 2004. In the first meeting between the two teams, the Huskies prevailed for their first taste of the Thursday night phenomenon, with a 29-17 win over Pitt. It was the game best remember for "The Slide," when quarterback Tyler Palko looked to scramble for a first down on a third-and-long situation. The play was called to set Pitt up in better field position for a field goal.
2006 - Pitt gave up two fourth-quarter touchdown drives after pinning the Huskies deep in their own territory. UConn decided to go for the two-point conversion in the second overtime. Quarterback D.J. Hernandez snuck in the two-point conversion, as UConn stole one from Pitt, 46-45. A Pitt win would have given them bowl eligibility. The Panthers led 31-17 with 12 minutes to play.
2007 - Pitt struggled to get some consistency from its quarterback play, as Kevan Smith and Pat Bostick combined for four interceptions, and UConn embarrassed the Panthers at Heinz Field 34-14 in the Big East opener for both teams.
2005 - The second shutout of the Dave Wannstedt era, a 24-0 Pitt win. The Panthers forced three interceptions. The game may be best remembered for a blocked field goal by Darrelle Revis that was returned 71 yards for a touchdown by Josh Lay.
2008 - Pitt needed to win at UConn in the 2008 regular season finale with bowl game stakes on the line. Though Big East leading rusher Donald Brown ran for 189 yards, and the fact the game was tied 3-3 at halftime, Pitt scored 24 third quarter points and picked off five passes in a 34-10 win. Pitt clinched a Sun Bowl bid in the win.
2009 - The Panthers needed some late game heroics, scoring 18 points to cap a 24-21 win. Pitt trailed 21-6 with four minutes left in the third quarter, then won it with an 18-yard field goal from Dan Hutchins as time expired.
KEYS TO WIN - UCONN
1. Play to its strengths. One area that Pitt has struggled with this season is penalties. UConn is the least penalized team in the Big East, while the Panthers have had three games with at least 10 or more penalties. Pitt has gotten better in this area--committing just 10 penalties over the last two games. Pitt has had more penalties than the opponent four times this season. The only one of those four games they won was the Florida International game.
Another area UConn has success is red zone defense; another strength that plays to a Pitt weakness. The Huskies also have the best red zone offense in the conference (27 scores in 30 opportunities), but the defense has allowed just 10 touchdowns in 23 red zone attempts. That doesn't bode well for a Pitt offense that is looking to improve in the red zone--mostly by cutting down on its own mistakes.
2. Get Jordan Todman going early. Based on the six games in the history of this short series, UConn has always had a successful ground game against Pitt, regardless of the outcome. Todman is different from some other backs that they've had, in that he can be more of a threat in the passing game. They'll need everything they can get from Todman--running or receiving--against a tough Pitt defense.
3. Forcing interceptions, not committing them. Pitt has had a lot of success in the last three games converting turnovers into points. In a sluggish start against Louisville, Pitt recovered a fumble that ended a long drive against the Cardinals, and intercepted a pass later to clinch the game. Luckily for the Huskies, they've thrown the fewest interceptions (four) of any team in the Big East. On defense, they've produced the most interceptions in the conference (nine).
4. Keep the confidence going. UConn gained a lot of momentum after their last win over West Virginia. It might have saved their season, after the Huskies battled some quarterback problems and some a pair of Big East losses to Rutgers and Louisville. If Zach Frazer builds off his performance against the Mountaineers--manage the game, don't force turnovers--he will be tough to stop, based on the game experience he has.
KEYS TO WIN - PITT
1. Take the crowd out of it early. Is there ever an easy place to play on the road? Pitt was neck-and-neck with Syracuse in the early going, until Tino Sunseri connected on a short screen pass to Devin Street, who took it all the way for a 79-yard touchdown. Syracuse never recovered. They won't need a 79-yard touchdown pass every time on the road, but they will need an opening score. Then again, West Virginia opened the scoring with a 53-yard touchdown run two weeks ago, and still lost.
2. Stay disciplined. That means in two areas; throwing the ball and avoiding the pre-snap penalties. Sunseri has improved throughout the season, and only has one interception in three Big East games, which came on a miscommunication on a shovel pass against Rutgers. UConn has two strengths in not committing penalties, and forcing interceptions. If Pitt plays into either of those two hands, they dig themselves a hole.
3. Get to the quarterback. This is where the game will come down to. UConn is allowing the fewest sacks in the conference, while Pitt is producing the most sacks in the conference. Is it the best offensive line Pitt has faced all year? That remains to be seen, but if Pitt can take away this strength of UConn, and get to quarterback Zach Frazer--who is still feeding off some confidence from the win over West Virginia--they give the offensive line a problem they haven't seen all year, but also steal that momentum developed by Frazer over the last two weeks.
4. Score touchdowns in the red zone. It's been the big topic of discussion this week. Pitt has scored on 27 of its 32 chances in the red zone this year. It's not a bad number, but the Panthers have only produced 15 touchdowns out of those 27 scores. Considering that UConn held a very potent West Virginia offense to 13 points, the Panthers will need a touchdown every time they are in the red zone, because of UConn's defense and ability to keep opponents out of the red zone. Pitt has to take advantage of every opportunity they can get.