Pitt's Dynamic Duo

The University of Pittsburgh Panthers boasts two of the top players in the country in quarterback Rod Rutherford and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

Through games played Sept. 27, Rod Rutherford was the nation's leader in passing efficiency at 182.64 and has completed 61.7 percent of his passes for 1,171 yards, with 16 touchdowns and three interceptions. He needs six more touchdown passes to duplicate his total of a season ago.

Larry Fitzgerald led the nation in receiving yards per game with 145.75 and has 32 catches with nine touchdowns.

Rutherford and Fitzgerald form one of the best passing combinations in the country and are receiving some Heisman Trophy consideration.

Fitzgerald isn't getting caught up in the hype.

"In my honest opinion, [voters and pundits] have the right team but the wrong man," Fitzgerald said. "Rod has been leading us all year. He has 16 touchdowns and three interceptions, and I can account for two of those interceptions because they were my fault. He has led us on and off the field. Before the [Texas A&M] game, he gave us a very inspirational speech and that is not really his demeanor because he is not a big talker."

"But he says things at the right time and we all look to follow his lead. He deserves the award."

Rutherford deflected the praise right back to Fitzgerald.

"Larry's just being modest," Rutherford said. "Larry's putting up the numbers."

The play of Rutherford has been remarkable considering the cloud that was hanging over his head from the start of the season.

He was involved in an incident on Labor Day outside a Station Square sports bar. He was charged with simple assault, indecent assault, and criminal mischief after he allegedly tried to pull a woman out of the car through the window and then shattered the window by kicking it. Rutherford's attorney has denied the charges and said the woman provoked the incident when she threw a glass at him and hit his car.

Pitt coach Walt Harris disciplined Rutherford by not allowing him to start the Panthers' opener against Kent State. Rutherford was permitted to play and came off the bench to throw four touchdown passes and lead the Panthers to a 43-3 win. He also was subject to other unspecified measures of discipline.

Rutherford was humbled by the situation.

"It really brought me back to earth," Rutherford said. "It made me a better person because you think you are this and you think you are that, and then a situation like this happens and you lose all credibility. Everything you worked to build went out he window."

"I am going to do whatever it takes to get the respect back because I know that I am a respectable person. I regret that it happened and I am just going to do what I can to move on."

Rutherford has responded to the adversity by completing 74 of 120 passes (61.7 percent) for 1,171 yards, 16 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions and is Division I-A's leading passer (182.6 rating). He has led the No. 15 Panthers to a 3-1 record and is on pace to break Alex Van Pelt's school record for passing yards in a season (3,163) and Pete Gonzalez's school record for touchdown passes (37).

Rutherford and Fitzgerald, like any great passing combo, feed off each other.

"A lot of it has to do with that," Fitzgerald explained. "Just me being here two years now and being used to where he wants me, now I have a better understanding of what Coach Harris and what Rod wants me to do on every play. I'm not just running to a spot anymore; I have a better understanding and that's helping Rod out."

Fitzgerald has become a marked man for the opposing team's defense, and he appreciates the new wrinkles the coaching staff comes up with to get him open.

"It is so much fun coming into practice on Tuesday, because every Tuesday they've got about four or five new plays for me to learn. They've broken down this week's opponent and we're going to do some different things every week. It's exciting for me that they're throwing new things at me every day and I've got to be on my A game in terms of being on time with Rod."

It has been an aerial circus so far for Pitt and barring injury it doesn't seem as though that will stop. Fitzgerald and Rutherford could propel the Panthers to the Big East title, a bid for a major bowl, and garner national honors for themselves. As a fan - just sit back and enjoy the show. The next episode of the Rod and Larry show is this Saturday against Notre Dame.

George Von Benko
PittInsiders.com


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