Panthers - Utes Team Reports

Walt Harris will lead the Panthers into a Fiesta Bowl date with Utah on Jan. 1, but then it's Dave Wannstedt's team. Wannstedt, most recently the Miami Dolphins coach, was selected as Harris' replacement on Dec. 23.

"The opportunity is something I have dreamed about since my early coaching days at Pitt," said Wannstedt, who spent four seasons with the Panthers in the 1970s. "I am excited about rejoining the Pitt family and making a positive contribution and difference with the football team, the university and community."

Wannstedt rejoins the college ranks after 16 years in the NFL.

Harris, on the other hand, battled for a contract extension throughout the season, but never received one and thus accepted a head coaching position at Stanford. Before the season, Pittsburgh administrators informed Harris that he needed to lead the Panthers to a BCS game to save his job, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported.

He hurdled the ultimatum and was named the Big East Coach of the Year, but still elected to walk.

Pittsburgh (8-3) won six of its last seven games and beat South Florida, 43-14, on Dec. 4 to secure the Big East's automatic berth. The Panthers opened the season 2-2 and needed overtime to get past Division I-AA Furman.

But as quarterback Tyler Palko progressed, so did the team. The junior southpaw has passed for 2,816 yards and 23 touchdowns. He was named to the All-Big East second team, along with wide receiver Greg Lee.
  • Scouting The Offense: QB Tyler Palko possesses the creativity and blue-collar work ethic to carry Pittsburgh. The junior has passed for 2,816 yards and 23 touchdowns in 11 starts. And when Palko is forced from the pocket, he can still break down a defense with the shovel pass he calls "The Favre Flip."

  • Scouting The Defense: The Panthers featured the Big East's fourth-ranked scoring (23.0 ppg.) and total (388.9 ypg.) defense during the regular season. Pittsburgh has struggled against the pass, allowing an average of 248.6 yards and 18 touchdowns.

  • Quote Jeff Long !! "The first time I met Dave Wannstedt, I was immediately struck by his pride and passion for the University of Pittsburgh. Although Dave's long and successful coaching career has taken him many different places, his love for Pitt has remained. He not only understands our tradition, but has also helped build it." -- Pittsburgh director of athletics Jeff Long on hiring Wannstedt to replace Walt Harris.

  • Bowl Game: Pittsburgh (8-3) vs. Utah (11-0), Fiesta Bowl, Tempe, Ariz., Jan. 1 -- The Panthers will try to stop Utes QB Alex Smith, who finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy balloting. Smith passed for 2,624 yards and 28 touchdowns and rushed for an additional 10 scores.

  • The Leader: QB Tyler Palko -- The junior passed for a career-high 411 yards and five touchdowns in a season-ending win over South Florida on Dec. 4. Palko has completed 208 of 369 attempts for 2,816 yards and 23 touchdowns.

  • Impress The Scouts: OT Rob Petitti -- The 6-6, 330-pound senior is widely considered Pittsburgh's top player. But because he is a lineman and the Panthers' run attack has left much to be desired this season, Petitti hasn't drawn much attention. He can impress the pro scouts with a good performance against a strong and nasty Utah defensive front that has some future NFL players as well.

  • Injury Report:  No significant injuries or moves.

Scouting the Utes: Urban Meyer has already accepted the head coaching job at Florida and will be bringing a handful of assistants with him. But he, like his history-making University of Utah squad, still has some unfinished business.

The Utes (11-0) can put the capper on a storybook season with a Fiesta Bowl victory over Big East champ Pitt (8-3) on New Year's Day in Tempe, Ariz.

Utah will be without four of its 10 full-time assistants. Offensive coordinator Mike Sanford, who called the plays and played a big part in designing the Utes' explosive spread offense, has left to become head coach at UNLV, taking Ute assistants Kurt Barber (linebackers) and Keith Uperesa (offensive line) with him. And cornerbacks coach Chuck Heater has already started his new job at Florida and won't coach in the bowl.

No problem, according to Utah players.

"I think that was a bigger deal in the eyes of the media than it was for this football team," senior safety Morgan Scalley said. "The coaches handled it the right way, and the players understand it's the best thing. Things are going well."

  • Scouting The Offense: Utah's spread offense, led brilliantly by Heisman finalist Alex Smith at quarterback, was nearly unstoppable this season as the Utes scored an NCAA-high 70 touchdowns this season. Utah averages 46.3 points and 502.7 yards per game and has great balance between the run (244.9 yards per game) and the pass (257.8 yards per game). The Utes turned the ball over only 13 times in 11 games, including just five interceptions.

  • Scouting The Defense:  The Utes will be fired up to play for new head coach Kyle Whittingham on this side of the ball. The popular Whittingham was promoted to take over for Urban Meyer as head coach, turning down an offer from hometown school BYU in the process. Utah struggled at times this season against good running teams, allowing an averaging of 151.4 yards per game and 4.0 yards per carry. But it didn't matter much because the Utes were usually content to let teams run the clock after taking early big leads.

  • Quote Alex Smith !! "Trying to beat Pitt right now -- that's all that matters. I'll have time to think about (the NFL) after. Right now, this historical season is too important." -- Utah junior quarterback Alex Smith on whether he'll bypass his senior year after earning several national player of the year awards.

  • Bowl Game: Utah vs. Pittsburgh, Jan. 1, Fiesta Bowl, Tempe, Ariz. -- The undefeated Utes (11-0) look to complete a perfect season after making history by becoming the first team from a non-BCS aligned conference to get invited to a BCS game. This is the first meeting between the schools and only the second time in school history that Utah has even faced a Big East Conference school. The Utes defeated West Virginia, 32-6, in the 1964 Liberty Bowl in Atlantic City, N.J. The game was played in the Atlantic City Convention Center and was the first major bowl game ever held indoors.

  • The Leader: Utah QB Alex Smith -- One of the five finalists for the Heisman Trophy, the 6-foot-4 Smith was named the national player of the year by both Sports Illustrated and the Sporting News. Ranked second in the nation in pass efficiency (174.9 rating), throwing for 28 touchdowns and running for 10 more.

  • Impress The Scouts: Utah S Morgan Scalley -- The senior leader of an underrated Ute defense that allowed just 20.6 points per game, many of them coming in the fourth quarter of blowouts, and 350.3 yards per game. Scalley is tied for the conference lead in interceptions with six and also has 2.5 sacks.

  • Injury Report: Senior cornerback Gerald Fletcher is out with a knee injury. Running back Quinton Ganther (broken blood vessel in knee) and wide receiver Travis LaTendresse (shoulder) are both expected to play.

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