Pittsburgh Panthers Team Report

Pittsburgh has some serious question marks it must deal with -- particularly its offensive and defensive lines. <br><br> In last week's 20-14 loss to Notre Dame, Pittsburgh allowed eight sacks and created no running room against the Fighting Irish, who held the Panthers to eight rushing yards on 27 attempts.

Another big concern is a defense that had no answers against Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish killed Pittsburgh with its ground game, led by Julius Jones, who rushed for a school-record 262 yards against the Panthers.

Pitt's weakness in the trenches shouldn't bite them this week against a young Rutgers team, but it is a concern with games against power running teams such as Syracuse, Boston College, Virginia Tech, West Virginia and Miami looming.

Pittsburgh Panthers Team Notes

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The return of senior tailback Brandon Miree, who has missed the past two games with a deep calf bruise, should help the ground game. Miree is a tough between-the-tackles runner who gives the offense the balance it needs. He can go wild if defenses commit too much to stopping the lethal pass-catch combo of senior quarterback Rod Rutherford and sensational sophomore wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Panthers have allowed an average of 493.3 yards in its last three games -- against Toledo, Texas A&M and Notre Dame. The good news is that their top defensive lineman, DE Claude Harriott, is expected to return to the starting lineup this week and that Rutgers is young on offense, with a true sophomore quarterback (Ryan Hart) as well as a freshman tailback (Justise Hairston) and a sophomore fullback (Brian Leonard).

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Sports are all about the team and teamwork. That's what you teach to your football players. Boston College was part of the Big East team and all had agreed to stay, so I don't think that speaks very well about who they are." -- Pittsburgh coach Walt Harris on Boston College's decision earlier this week to leave the Big East to join the ACC.

Pittsburgh - Rutgers Hash Marks

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Pittsburgh (3-2 overall, 0-0 Big East) at Rutgers (3-3 overall, 0-2 Big East), Saturday -- With Big East play beginning, it's put-up or shut-up time for the Panthers, who were thought to be a top-10 team and a serious threat to Miami and Virginia Tech for Big East supremacy entering this season. However, through five games, the Panthers have looked like a lower-tier bowl team with serious flaws in its offensive and defensive lines. The good news is that the Panthers have back-to-back games that they should win -- Rutgers and next Saturday vs. Syracuse before a tough closing month.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: Pittsburgh senior DE Claude Harriott -- Billed as an All-American candidate, Harriott has been slowed by a sprained ankle and has managed just one sack this season. He played hurt last week against Notre Dame, but wasn't much of a factor as the Irish steamrolled Pitt with its power running game. Harriott (9.5 sacks in 2002) must regain his old form, if Pittsburgh is to turn things around and land an attractive bowl berth.

Pittsburgh sophomore K David Abdul -- Abdul has been a major disappointment thus far this season. Abdul (67 points in 2002) was a freshman All-American choice last year and was nearly automatic on field goals. This fall, he's just 4 of 8 on field goal tries (including two key misses last Saturday night vs. Notre Dame) and he's missed an extra point as well.

INJURY IMPACT: Senior defensive end Claude Harriott (ankle sprain) played hurt last week and will give it a go this weekend at Rutgers. ... Starting tailback Brandon Miree missed the Texas A&M and Notre Dame games with a bruised calf. Miree has been slow to respond to treatments and could miss his third consecutive start this week at Rutgers. If he can't go, then sophomore Jawan Walker will start in his place.

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