Big East Report

<b>PITTSBURGH</b><br><br> Panthers coach Walt Harris gave junior quarterback Tyler Palko the benefit of the doubt. Palko, who completed just 11 of 31 pass attempts for 267 yards in the most recent game -- a 29-17 loss at Connecticut -- hasn't had much help in guiding Pittsburgh to a disappointing 2-2 start.

"I think he's done a lot of good things for us," Harris said.

"He's been under duress because we haven't run the ball well and haven't protected him well. What he's done is really good considering what else has happened to him in regards to the running game and down and distance.

"He has a lot of areas to improve on, but he's moving at a pace that is good."

Though Palko's 119.4 pass efficiency rating ranks fifth among Big East quarterbacks, he has shouldered too much blame for the Panthers' slow start. After beating Ohio convincingly, the Panthers dropped a home decision to Nebraska and edged I-AA representative Furman in overtime.

Senior running back Raymond Kirkley has rushed for more than 100 yards on two occasions, but Pittsburgh's ground attack has been the conference's worst (94.8 ypg.).

Palko, who isn't known as a mobile quarterback, actually led the team in rushing with 49 yards against Connecticut.

The Panthers will try to get untracked on Saturday at Temple (1-4). The Owls haven't beaten Pittsburgh since 1998.

NOTES, QUOTES

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Pittsburgh's glaring problem is a weakened rushing attack. The Panthers are averaging a league-worst 94.8 yards per game on the ground. Pittsburgh is ranked third in passing (231.0 ypg.) and fourth in scoring (24.8 ppg.).

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Panthers are running in the middle of the pack in every category except opponents' third-down percentage, where they have managed the best numbers in the Big East (24.6 percent). Pittsburgh owns the league's fourth-ranked scoring (23.5 ppg.) and total (343.2 ypg.) defense.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Every year we play Temple and they play tremendous. Regardless of their record, we're in for a battle." -- Pittsburgh coach Walt Harris on his team's upcoming game at Temple. The Panthers own a 25-8-1 edge in the series.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Pittsburgh at Temple, Oct. 9 -- If Pittsburgh can stop Temple quarterbacks Walter Washington and Mike McGann, who will share time, the Panthers should improve to 1-1 in conference play. Temple is coming off a 70-16 loss to Bowling Green.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Tyler Palko -- The junior completed 11 of 31 pass attempts for 267 yards and one touchdown against UConn, also rushing for 49 yards and a touchdown. Palko ranks third among Big East quarterbacks in passing yards (248.2 per game).

LB H.B. Blades -- The 6-0, 245-pound sophomore recorded 11 tackles and recovered a fumble in the Connecticut game. He leads the team in tackles with 33 and has recorded a sack.

ROSTER REPORT: LB Azzie Beagnyam (ankle) is sidelined indefinitely. ... LT Rob Petitti was injured in the third quarter against Connecticut and didn't return. P Adam Graessle exited the game as well. Both are questionable for Temple. ... RG John Simonitis played for the first time this season.


BOSTON COLLEGE

Eagles coach Tom O'Brien may soon have an enviable personnel problem on his hands.

Assuming Andre Callender recovers from a nagging groin injury, Boston College will feature three backs who have rushed for at least 100 yards in a game this season.

True freshman A.J. Brooks was the latest to top the century mark. He managed 160 yards on 23 carries and two touchdowns in the Eagles' 29-7 win over Massachusetts on Saturday.

Redshirt freshmen Callender and L.V. Whitworth have also shown the potential to be every-down backs.

"If we can get Callender healthy, it's a good situation to have," O'Brien said. "They're all good with the football in their hands. It's the other aspects, blocking and reading defenses, that will determine who plays."

Boston College (4-1) has the Big East's second-ranked rushing offense, behind West Virginia. Brooks, who earned his first career start against Massachusetts, leads the team with a 70-yard per game average.

Junior quarterback Paul Peterson, who led Boston College to victories in each of his first six starts dating to last season, completed 16 of 30 pass attempts for 239 yards and was intercepted three times last week.

But with three capable backs at his disposal, Peterson is sure to take advantage of any defense willing to sell out against the run. The Eagles, who are tied with Syracuse for first place in the conference standings, get the week off before returning to action at Pittsburgh (2-2) on Oct. 16.

NOTES, QUOTES

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Boston College owns the Big East's second-ranked rushing offense thanks to its talented trio of backs: A.J. Brooks, Andre Callender and L.V. Whitworth. The Eagles also have the league's top third-down conversion percentage (46.3).

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The conference's best defense has allowed only five touchdowns and four field goals in five games. DE Mathias Kiwanuka leads the Big East with four sacks, and CB Will Blackmon is the team's top tackler (26).

QUOTE TO NOTE: "You'd have to ask him what prompted the switch, but I'm sure glad he did." -- Boston College coach Tom O'Brien on the emergence of redshirt freshman linebacker Jolonn Dunbar. The former running back moved to defense during the off-season and recorded a team-high six tackles in a 29-7 win over Massachusetts on Saturday.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Bye week -- Boston College (4-1) will take the week off before heading to Pittsburgh (2-2) for a conference game at Heinz Field on Oct. 16. The Eagles suffered a 24-13 setback in Chestnut Hill, Mass., last season. Pittsburgh owns a 15-13 series advantage.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: RB A.J. Brooks -- In his first career start, the true freshman rushed for 160 yards on 23 carries and two touchdowns against Massachusetts. Brooks managed 95 yards on the ground in a 17-14 loss to Wake Forest a week earlier. He is averaging 70.0 rushing yards and has scored three touchdowns in four games.
DE Mathias Kiwanuka -- The 6-8, 249-pound junior leads the Big East with four sacks. He finished the 2003 season as the league's sack leader. Kiwanuka has recorded 25 total tackles.

ROSTER REPORT: RB Andre Callender will rest his groin injury during the bye week. ... Freshman LB Brian Toal made his first career start in place of junior Jon Misiewicz against Massachusetts. Freshman QB Matt Ryan also took his first snap in relief of starter Paul Peterson.


CONNECTICUT

Coach Randy Edsall hasn't given serious consideration to winning a championship in the Huskies' first year as a Big East member. Then again, Connecticut has as good a chance as any team to break through in the watered-down conference.

West Virginia and Boston College appear to be the programs to beat at this point, but don't count out the Huskies.

"We have a chance to win every game that we play," Edsall said. "At the end of the season we'll see where that takes us."

After beating Pittsburgh 29-17 on Sept. 30 for their first Big East win, the Huskies (4-1) will take a week off before hosting West Virginia (4-1) at Rentschler Field on Oct. 13.

Edsall called the victory over Pittsburgh a milestone for his program, but if quarterback Dan Orlovsky and running back Cornell Brockington continue to progress at their current rate, Connecticut may be celebrating more significant accomplishments in a few months.

Orlovsky has thrown for 10 touchdowns against six interceptions and is the Big East's top passer (278.9 ypg.). Brockington, just a sophomore, ranks third in the league in rushing yardage (100.0 ypg.).

The Huskies are 17-4 over their past 21 games.

NOTES, QUOTES

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: QB Dan Orlovsky and WR Keron Henry are responsible for Connecticut's second-ranked passing offense in the Big East (282.0 ypg.). The Huskies are averaging 30.0 points per game, second in the league behind Boston College.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Connecticut recorded four sacks in the 29-17 win over Pittsburgh on Sept. 30, holding the Panthers to 4-for-16 on third down. The Huskies are ranked second in the league in scoring (16.2 ppg.), rushing (99.2 ypg.) and passing (169.8 ypg.) defense.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "You sit with him and know he has the qualities you'd like to see in everyone. He is special. He's a very determined and proud person. He's also someone who is very unselfish." -- Connecticut coach Randy Edsall on LB Alfred Fincher. Fincher, a senior, led the Huskies with 17 tackles in the win over Pittsburgh.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Bye week -- Connecticut (4-1) will take the week off before hosting West Virginia (4-1) at Rentschler Field on Oct. 13. The Huskies and Mountaineers have never met.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: RB Cornell Brockington -- The sophomore rushed for 185 yards, one yard short of his career-best effort, and a game-clinching fourth-quarter touchdown against Pittsburgh on Sept. 30. Brockington averaged 6.0 yards per carry and recorded his third straight 100-yard rushing game. He is ranked third among Big East backs, averaging 100.0 yards per game.

PK Matt Nuzie -- The Big East Special Teams Player of the Week made all three field goals he tried against Pittsburgh, including a career-high 49-yard effort to close the first half. Nuzie is 5-for-9 on the season.

ROSTER REPORT: DE Tyler King broke his right leg in the Pittsburgh game and is expected to miss a minimum of six weeks. ... CB Ernest Cole (ankle) missed his second straight game. ... RB Terry Caulley, recovering from a knee injury suffered last season, is taking a redshirt.


RUTGERS

The Scarlet Knights' main concern this week will be getting key players healthy as they prepare for a non-league matchup with Southeastern Conference opponent Vanderbilt.

Quarterback Ryan Hart helped the Scarlet Knights amass 490 yards of total offense in a 41-31 loss at Syracuse on Saturday, but couldn't lock up a victory in the fourth quarter. He was, however, without the services of fullback Brian Leonard, who accounted for nearly 40 percent of Rutgers' offensive output in three games.

Wide receivers Shawn Tucker and Marcus Daniels, in addition to starting left tackle Sameeh McDonald, were also sidelined.

The Scarlet Knights (2-2) showed they could rally from a deficit on the road -- they did so three times in the second half -- but are still learning how to put teams away. Rutgers had possession of a 31-27 lead and the ball with 3:49 remaining, but surrendered 14 points in the game's final 2:24.

"We had an opportunity to win and unfortunately we didn't cash in on the opportunity," Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said. "But credit goes to Syracuse. We can learn from this."

The Scarlet Knights will face their fourth non-Big East opponent on Saturday in Nashville. Rutgers edged Michigan State (19-14) and Kent State (29-21), but fell to I-AA representative New Hampshire (35-24) in the season's first month.

NOTES, QUOTES

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Even though injured WR Shawn Tucker has missed the past two games, Rutgers is averaging a Big East-best 286.5 passing yards per game. QB Ryan Hart is operating the league's third-ranked scoring (25.8 ppg.) and total (397.0 ypg.) offense.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: After surrendering 370 yards on the ground to Syracuse on Saturday, Rutgers' fifth-ranked run defense dropped to No. 61 nationally. The Orange rolled up 501 total yards in a 41-31 victory. The Scarlet Knights do, however, lead the Big East in sacks with 14.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm excited where we are, contrary to some people's belief. I think we're in a great position. We have to get better and better, but the people are here. They're young and inexperienced, but they're here." -- Rutgers coach Greg Schiano on his team's slow start and presumably bright future.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Rutgers at Vanderbilt, Oct. 9 -- The Scarlet Knights must limit Commodores QB Jay Cutler, who has thrown 31 career touchdown passes. Vanderbilt is coming off a 31-13 win over Mississippi State. The teams haven't met since 1988, a 27-13 Vanderbilt victory at Giants Stadium.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Ryan Hart -- The junior delivered the best performance of his career in a 41-31 loss at Syracuse on Saturday. Hart completed 29 of 49 pass attempts for 311 yards and three touchdowns. He also rallied Rutgers from three second-half deficits. Hart trails only Connecticut's Dan Orlovsky in passing yardage.

CB Joe Porter -- The sophomore has intercepted a pass in Rutgers' last three games. He saved two touchdowns against Syracuse by picking off a Perry Patterson pass in the end zone and pulling down RB Walter Reyes on his way to the goal line.

ROSTER REPORT: FB Brian Leonard (thigh), OT Sameeh McDonald (knee) and WR Marcus Daniels (knee) are questionable for Vanderbilt. WR Shawn Tucker (groin) and LB Quintero Frierson (ankle) are likely out. ... DE Alfred Peterson, who is facing criminal charges stemming from an on-campus incident last February, is suspended indefinitely for an unspecified violation of team rules. ... LB Brad Cunningham made his first start of the season at Syracuse and DE Piana Lukabu returned from a three-game suspension.


SYRACUSE

The Orange celebrated Saturday's 41-31 win over Rutgers for a few hours before reality set in. Syracuse will conclude its brutal non-conference schedule by hosting No. 8 Florida State on Saturday.

The Orange have already faced No. 9 Purdue (a 51-0 loss) and No. 10 Virginia (a 31-10 loss). The Seminoles (3-1) are coming off a 38-16 defeat of North Carolina State.

"Now we have an unbelievable challenge playing Florida State," Syracuse coach Paul Pasqualoni said. "It will be an interesting week here."

At the very least, the Orange can build on a dominant offensive performance (501 total yards). Running backs Walter Reyes and Damien Rhodes, who burned Rutgers for 237 and 102 rushing yards, respectively, proved they are one of the nation's top tandems.

Quarterback Perry Patterson has yet to shine in Syracuse's suddenly run-based attack, but did enough to lead his team to victory over the weekend. The Orange (3-2) still feature the last-ranked offense in the Big East, but have shown considerable improvement of late.

Syracuse hasn't faced Florida State since 1991. The 46-14 decision marked Pasqualoni's first loss as head coach of the Orange. He won his first four games as Syracuse finished 10-2 that season and beat Ohio State in the Hall of Fame Bowl.

NOTES, QUOTES

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Despite burning Rutgers for 501 yards in Saturday's 41-31 victory, the Orange are still last in the Big East in total offense (316.0 ypg.). Syracuse is also ranked sixth in scoring output (21.4 ypg.). The Orange scored 21 points in the fourth quarter against Rutgers, besting their highest game total of the season.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Led by sophomore LB Jerry Mackey, the Orange are ranked fifth in the Big East for scoring (27.4 ppg.) and total (402.4 ypg.) defense. Defensive backs Kelvin Smith, Tanard Jackson and Diamond Ferri have combined for five interceptions.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I thought the game started off a little bit slow. We had some opportunities early that we didn't cash in on. Rutgers caught on fire and really the offense played well. But I'm proud of the way our kids hung in there in the fourth quarter." -- Coach Paul Pasqualoni on Syracuse's first Big East win of the season, over Rutgers.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Florida State at Syracuse, Oct. 9 -- The Seminoles are coming off a 38-16 win over North Carolina State as QB Wyatt Sexton, filling in for starter Chris Rix, threw three touchdown passes. The Orange will need to play way over their heads and hope the Seminoles have a bad day if they are to be competitive in this game.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: RB Walter Reyes -- The Big East Offensive Player of the Week delivered a season-high 237 rushing yards and two touchdowns in a 41-31 win over Rutgers on Saturday. Reyes rushed for 121 yards by intermission. He is averaging 105.8 rushing yards per game.

RB Damien Rhodes -- The junior averaged 10.2 yards per carry against Rutgers. He finished the game with 102 yards and two touchdowns. Rhodes is a perfect backfield complement to Reyes and is averaging 61.6 rushing yards per game.

ROSTER REPORT: WR Steve Gregory (thigh), LB Kellen Pruitt (knee) and CB Tanard Jackson (stab wound) were sidelined for the Rutgers game and are questionable for Florida State. Syracuse's secondary was further depleted when SS Diamond Ferri and FS Anthony Smith left the game with ailments, but each eventually returned.


TEMPLE

Coach Bobby Wallace will continue to use two quarterbacks -- Walter Washington and Mike McGann -- even though the Owls suffered a 70-16 setback against Bowling Green on Saturday.

Washington, the more mobile of the two, posted career low numbers in passing (32) and rushing (minus-17) yards. McGann, who is recognized as the better pocket passer, completed his first five attempts through the air and finished with 165 yards and a touchdown.

He moved into fourth place on Temple's career total offense chart with 4,639 yards and provided one of the Owls' few bright spots.

"The philosophy was we were trying to redshirt Mike," Wallace said.

"We would've loved to have done that. ... But not many people ask the quarterback to run like we do. We thought Walter could've used a breather. But Walter will start again. Mike will play a series in the first and second half."

Wallace is hoping that his team can match the intensity and efficiency it showed in last year's 30-16 loss to Pittsburgh on the road. Temple (1-4) will host the Panthers (2-2) at Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday.

In the 2003 meeting, Washington completed 24 of 40 pass attempts for 278 yards and one touchdown. He also rushed for 72 yards and another score.

The Owls, however, haven't beaten Pittsburgh since 1998.

NOTES, QUOTES

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Temple has averaged the fewest points in the Big East through five games (21.4 ppg.). Though the Owls have been penalized the least of any team in the league, they are ranked fourth in rushing (155.4 ypg.) and fifth in passing (188.8 ypg.).

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Temple is ranked last in the Big East in every significant category, including scoring (42.2 ppg.) and total (437.2 ypg.) defense. Bowling Green amassed 639 yards in a 70-16 win on Saturday. It was Temple's worst loss since 1999, a 55-0 drubbing by Miami.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Temple has formed a task force to look into all our athletics. What kind of commitment comes out of that is the biggest thing that will determine our future. Obviously, when you have a game like Saturday's, it hurts. We haven't been totally embarrassed like that too many times in the last five or six years." -- Coach Bobby Wallace on Temple's conference future and the aftermath of Saturday's 70-16 loss to Bowling Green. The Owls have been voted out of the Big East and are playing in their final season in the league.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Pittsburgh at Temple, Oct. 9 -- Temple may be able to take advantage of Pittsburgh's weakened rushing attack, which ranks last in the Big East. Pittsburgh is coming off a 29-17 loss at Connecticut.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Mike McGann -- Though the senior is slated to play only a few series, his experience could prove vital for the Owls. McGann completed 7 of 12 pass attempts for 165 yards and one touchdown against Bowling Green.

WR Brian Allbrooks -- A transfer from Grossmont College, the 5-11, 180-pound junior managed six receptions for 94 yards in the loss to Bowling Green. Allbrooks had reeled in only two passes for nine yards prior to the game.

ROSTER REPORT: DB Durel Davis (concussion) is questionable, while DL Antwon Burton (foot) is sidelined indefinitely.


WEST VIRGINIA

Though West Virginia saw its undefeated season come to an end on Saturday, the 16th-ranked Mountaineers are still the class of the Big East.

West Virginia (4-1) had a chance to take the lead late in the fourth quarter, but came up short in a 19-13 loss at Virginia Tech on Saturday. The defeat snapped the Mountaineers' 11-game regular season winning streak.

"When it was 19-6, I turned to the sideline and said, "We're going to win this game,' " West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez said. "I believed that to the very end. ... But we have to now turn our attention to UConn."

West Virginia will take a few days off before playing at Connecticut (4-1) on Oct. 13. Rodriguez will use that time to figure out what happened to his formerly outstanding rushing offense.

Leading rusher Kay-Jay Harris was limited to 22 yards on seven carries before he went to the sideline with an injury. Backup Jason Colson added 47 yards on 12 attempts.

West Virginia's top rusher was quarterback Rasheed Marshall, who contributed 74 yards on 16 carries. Marshall also completed 9 of 19 pass attempts for 81 yards, and was unable to lead his team into the end zone.

NOTES, QUOTES

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: West Virginia owns the top scoring offense in the Big East at 35.6 points per game. The Mountaineers are ranked first in rushing (247.6 ypg.) and sixth in passing (162.4 ypg.). They have converted 17 of 18 opportunities inside the red zone.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: If West Virginia could get better pressure on the quarterback, its defensive ranking might soar. The Mountaineers have only five sacks but are still ranked third in scoring defense (17.6 ppg.).

QUOTE TO NOTE: "That is something I addressed with the team before and after the (Virginia Tech) game. It's such a long season and all this talk about undefeated stuff was crazy and premature. All we have to worry about is getting better as a football team." -- Coach Rich Rodriguez, on the hype surrounding West Virginia's season.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Bye week -- The Mountaineers will take the week off before heading to Connecticut (4-1) on Oct. 13. The teams have never met.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: RB Kay-Jay Harris -- If the senior doesn't make a quick recovery (sprained knee, ankle), West Virginia's top-ranked rushing offense will take a serious hit. Harris is the Big East's leading ball carrier (114.2 ypg.) and has scored six touchdowns.

QB Rasheed Marshall -- The senior turned in an unspectacular performance, but was nonetheless the best his team had to offer in a 19-13 loss at Virginia Tech on Saturday. Marshall completed 9 of 19 pass attempts for 81 yards and rushed for an additional 74 on 16 carries.

ROSTER REPORT: Harris, FB Justin Dziak (hamstring) and SS Lawrence Audena (neck) are all questionable for Connecticut.


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