Seventeen Pitt seniors will play their last collegiate football game at Heinz Field, including (fullbacks) Tim Murphy, Justin Acierno and Kellen Campbell, (offensive linemen) Charles Spencer and Dale Williams, (linebackers) J.J. Horne, Keith Malley and Doug Roseberry, (defensive linemen) Thomas Smith, Phil Tillman and Ron Idoko, (tailbacks) Raymond Kirkley and Marcus Furman, (defensive backs) Bernard "Josh" Lay and Tez Morris, (tight end) Erik Gill and (placekicker) Josh Cummings.
Television: ESPN Regional, WTAE-TV
Radio: FM 104.7 (WPGB-FM), AM 970 (WBGG-AM), SSR (Channel 147)
UConn / Pitt
Offense: 29.6 PPG / 25.6 PPG
Defense: 18.4 PPG / 22.0 PPG
Off Rush: 191.6 YPG / 120.8 YPG
Off Pass: 144.0 YPG / 220.6 YPG
Off Total: 335.6 YPG / 341.4 YPG
Def Rush: 147.4 YPG / 160.3 YPG
Def Total: 295.9 YPG / 325.2 YPG
T/O Margin: +6 / -3
Through the first five weeks
The Panthers have won 35 of their last 53 games including a 21-8 mark over its last 29 Big East games. Pitt has lost three games this year by a combined 15 points. Pitt ranks 25th nationally in total defense, giving up an average of 325.2 yards per game. The Panthers pass defense ranks seventh nationally, yielding 165 yards per game. They also rank 11th nationally in pass efficiency defense (103.7 rating). Pitt is tied for the Big East lead in red zone defense. Linebacker H.B. Blades leads the Big East and ranks 11th nationally with an average of 12.0 tackles per game. Darrelle Revis ranks second in the Big East and 18th nationally with an average of .44 interceptions per game (four total). He has 11 total passes defended, one behind team leader Bernard "Josh" Lay, who has 12. Revis is 23rd nationally (tied) with an average of 1.22 passes defended per game. Josh Lay ranks 12th nationally and third in the Big East with an average of 1.33 passes defended per game. Pitt has averaged 32.2 points per game over the last six contests. Tyler Palko is 24th nationally (tied) in points responsible for (14 points/ game). Greg Lee ranks first in receiving yards (89.4 avg.) and second in receptions (4.56 avg.) among Big East receivers.
UConn lost to
Pitt lost at
Randy Edsall is playing quarterback chairs again. He's
yet to name the starter for Saturday's contest. Matt Bonislawski, the
UConn is one of just four schools in the nation to have
two active players with more than 2,000 career rushing yards. Terry Caulley has
2,414 to his credit while Cornell Brockington has gained 2,106 career yards.
Terry Caulley is one of only nine players in the country to average more than
100 rushing yards per game (minimum 2,000 career yards. Caulley is averaging
105.0 yards per game as a Husky (2414 yards in 23 games). For the season Caulley
Jason Williams, a
Tyler Palko is starting to get a grasp on coach Matt Cavanaughs' pro style offense. One of the top players in the Big East, Palko is the epitome of a field general. He's a tough, old school player that leads his team to battle every game with a simple goal, do everything in your power to win the game. He's tied for the Big East lead with 14 TD passes and second in the conference in passing yards per game (218.7 avg.) and total offense (204.7 avg.).
Pitt has only two 100-yard
rushing games this year, both by true freshmen. LaRod Stephens-Howling had 101
Greg Lee, when on his game, can put pressure on any
defense in the country. Lees' lack of concentration at times this season has
probably cost the Panthers at least a game or two. Derek Kinder has shown an
ability to make the big catch. On the season he's caught 30 passes for 310 yards
(10.3) and three touchdowns. Where's the tight end in this offense?
After opening the season averaging 217.3 yards against inferior competition, inexperience and inconsistency along the Huskies' offensive line has bogged down the talented tandem of Terry Caulley and Cornell Brockington in recent weeks. An injury to starting fullback Lou Allen against WVU makes matters even worse for this struggling unit. However, there are too many questions surrounding the Pitt defense to write-off the Husky running game. The quarterback and receiver positions have been decimated by injuries. The Huskies will take an occasional shot down field but look for them to continue to use the quarterback as a running option first.
The Panthers flash and smash combination of LaRod Stephens-Howling and Rashad Jennings, along with the continued progress of the offensive line, will eventually enable Matt Cavanaugh to run more of a ball controlled attack. The Pitt offensive line will have to be physical and remain focused. Though penalties have put the Panthers in far too many second or third down and long situations, the line has picked up its pass blocking and has afforded Tyler Palko ample time. Tyler Palko will need to step up into the pocket and scan the entire field. He must regain the ability to check off his primary receiver, finding his second and even third options. The wideouts need to remain focused. When recognizing a corner blitz they need to adjust, cutting their routes short.
The Huskies are a big play defense. They look to force their opponents into offensive mistakes. The defensive backs are excellent in coverage and close on the ball well. Shawn Mayne leads the Huskies with four sacks. Linebacker Ryan Henegan had a game-high 14 tackles last week against WVU. Darius Butler is third in the conference with three interceptions.
At press time the Panthers had the 25th ranked defense in the country. Pitt last finished a season ranked among the nation's top 25 in total defense in 2002. That year the Panthers yielded just 296 yards per game and finished with a No. 12 ranking. The 2001 unit ranked No. 7 at seasons' end, yielding just 284.64 yards per game. Over its last four contests the Pitt defense has forced a combined 12 turnovers (six interceptions and six fumbles). Freshman Gus Mustakas leads the Panthers with three sacks.
Neither defense played particularly well in their last
games. Pitt was scorched by
UConn will rely on a strong pass rush with the hope of forcing Palko to hurry his throws or to force passes into coverage. If Palko is continually flushed from the pocket or hurried on most passing plays, expect this secondary to have a huge game. The key for the UConn run defense is, as it's been, the linebackers. They're athletic, quick and get to the ball in a hurry.
Larry Taylor ranks 18th in the nation in punt returns
(12.3 average). A couple of weeks ago he also ranked seventh in kickoff returns,
but has since fallen below the national minimum to be ranked because of both
UConn's shutout wins the first two games and teams kicking the ball as far away
from him as possible. Earlier this season
Pitt is one of only three teams nationally to have two kickoff returns for scores this year. After missing two games from injury Josh Cummings is kicking in his usual fashion, which is very good. Cummings leads the Panthers in scoring with 54 points. He has connected on 13 of 17 field goals (.765) and is 15 for 15 on PATs. He ranks eighth nationally in field goals (1.86 FG per game). Among Big East kickers, he ranks first in field goals, field goal percentage and PAT percentage. Cummings is second in the conference in kick scoring (7.7 points per game). Adam Graessle ranks second in the Big East and 30th nationally with a 42.3-yard punting average. He's had 14 punts downed inside the 20 yard line and 12 punts more than 50 yards.
Injuries to Taylor and Jimmy McClam put the Huskies
return teams behind the eight ball. The place-kicking combination of Matt Nuzie
and Graig Vicdomino has been up and down. Kicking into a swirling wind in Heinz
Field won't make their jobs any easier. The punting game is also a question
mark. Shane Hussar is averaging a paltry 39.2 yards on 50 punts. That shouldn't
matter. Hussar was benched after several short punts against
The Panthers, conversely, have one of the top special team units from top to bottom in the Big East conference. Josh Cummings is a model of consistency. Adam Graessle seems to be slower in his delivery yet still showing a strong leg and good placement. The return game has yielded three touchdowns on the season and is a threat to go the distance on any given kick.
Prediction: Pitt, 27-13