Pitt visits Rutgers to open Big East play

Pitt (3-2, 0-0) opens Big East play against Rutgers (3-3, 0-2) Saturday in a game that is a must win if they are to turn the season around. Rutgers is coming off a 34-19 loss to West Virginia and Pitt is looking to bounce back after a disappointing 20-14 loss to Notre Dame.

Rutgers is a much-improved team this season on both sides of the ball. Coach Greg Schiano's systems are fully in place now and his recruiting is starting to pay off. Seven starters on defense and 4 starters on offense return from last season.

They are led on offense by freshman sensation Justise Hairston, who has rushed for 471 yards on 116 carries for a 4.1-yards per carry average and 7 rushing TD's on the season. Hairston tallied 115 yards on the ground last week against West Virginia and racked up 161 yards against Navy earlier this season.

QB Ryan Hart has been a steady performer this season. He took his lumps last year as a freshman but his toughness and accuracy has helped the offense get off to a good start this year. Hart has completed 99 of 170 passes for 1,251 yards and 8 TD's.

Hart's leading receiver is junior Tres Moses with 27 receptions for 301 yards and 3 TD's. Another standout receiver is sophomore Shawn Tucker, who has 19 catches for 321 yards and 2 TD's this season. Knight, Moses and Tucker all were recruits from the state of Florida.

On defense, senior DE Raheem Orr leads the Big East Conference in sacks (5.5) and tackles for a loss (11.5) and will be a force to be reckoned with. Senior linebacker Brian Bender and junior strong safety Jarvis Johnson are also standout performers. Senior CB Nate Jones is one of the best cornerbacks in the conference.

Although Rutgers went 1-11 last season, they put the scare into national powers Tennessee and Miami when facing them. They led Tennessee at the half and Miami late in the 3rd quarter. Pitt has won 8 of the last 10 against Rutgers. At least half of those 8 wins were close contests including a two overtime 55-48 thriller in 1997. The Panthers won last year 23-3 in a game that was still in doubt going into the 4th quarter.

Brian Gold

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