The 98th Edition of the "Backyard Brawl"

On Thanksgiving night, in prime time and in front of a national television audience, Pitt and West Virginia will meet for the 98th time.

Pitt was left for dead after a dreadful (0-3) start but has gone 5-2 in their past seven games to remain in bowl contention. The Panthers (5-5, Big East 4-2) need a victory in the finale to keep their slim bowl hopes alive.  WVU (8-1, Big East 5-0) will be trying to win the conference title outright for the second time and make their first appearance in a BCS game.  Should the Mountaineers falter against the Panthers, they would need a victory, at Raymond James Stadium, against South Florida to win the conference title. 

 

Last season, the Panthers used a late fourth-quarter scoring drive to defeat No. 21 West Virginia 16-13 at Heinz Field.  They went on to claim the Big East title, and subsequent BCS bowl bid, with a season ending victory, ironically, at South Florida.

 

Series: Pitt leads 59-35-3 (20-13-3 at WVU).  WVU holds a 9-5 edge in head to head Big East contests.  

Line:  WVU -13.5

Television:  ESPN

Radio:  FM 104.7 (WPGB-FM), AM 970 (WBGG-AM), SSR  

 

Team Statistics

Pitt/WVU

Offense: 25.4 PPG / 30.4 PPG

Defense: 19.8 PPG / 17.0 PPG

Off Rush: 116.3 YPG / 236.8 YPG

Off Pass: 210.1 YPG / 127.6 YPG

Off Total: 326.4 YPG / 364.4  YPG

Def Rush: 158.6 YPG / 91.2 YPG

Def Pass: 164.0 YPG / 178.6 YPG

Def Total: 322.6 YPG / 269.8 YPG

T/O Margin: 0 / +6

 

Hidden Stats:  

Pitt has won three of the last five meetings.  The Panthers have scored 29-of-37 times (78.4%) they have been in the red zone.  Dating back to the 2002 season, 12 of Pitt's 18 losses have been by eight points or less. The Panthers have won 22 of their last 30 Big East games (.733).  Both head coaches, Rich Rodriguez and Dave Wannstedt have participated in this game as players for their respective universities.  WVU has won 23 of its last 27 regular season games and is 21-4 in its last 25 Big East Conference games.  The Mountaineers have won 34 consecutive contests when scoring 30 or more points. West Virginia is 77-32-2 in home finales all time.  The winner has gone to a bowl game in 11 of the last 12 years.  The home team has split the last 10 games in the series and has won just six of the fourteen conference games between the two schools.

Last Game:

Pitt . . . (11/12/05), 24-0 home victory over UConn.

WVU . . . 11/09/05, 38-0 road victory against Cincinnati.

 

 

Offense:

Quarterback Tyler Palko has put up productive numbers of late.  Over Pitt's last seven games, Palko has thrown 14 touchdowns and only three interceptions.  He is averaging 222 passing yards during that stretch, while completing nearly 60% of his passes (125 of 212).  He has thrown seven touchdowns and has run for five over Pitt's last five games.  The Panthers are 4-1 during that stretch.  Palko ranks second in the Big East with 15 TD passes this year.  For the season Palko has completed 169 of 298 passes for 2084 yards, with 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions.  Greg Lee currently ranks first in receiving yards (82.0 avg.) and second in receptions (4.3 avg.) among Big East receivers.  Lees' totals of 43 receptions for 820 yards, a 19.1 YPC average and five touchdowns lead all Panther pass catchers.  Freshman tailback Larod Stephens-Howling continues his impressive freshman campaign leading the Panthers in rushing with 389 yards on 86 carries for an average of 4.5 yards per carry.  The offensive line,  is still looking to consistently provide a good ground attack, has improved with their pass blocking assignments over the course of the season and have given Palko ample time to find open receivers.  

 

The Mountaineer rushing offense is ranked eighth in the nation and first in the Big East averaging 236.8 yards per game.  WVU ranks second in the Big East in scoring offense (30.4 ppg) and third in total offense with 364.3 yards per game.  Once again, WVU is blessed to have a deep and talented corps of running backs. So far this season WVU has gotten a combined 1,364 yards and 20 touchdowns from production from junior Jason Colson, sophomores Pernell Williams and Owen Schmitt and freshmen Jason Gwaltney.  The jewel of the backfield is freshman Steve Slaton.  Slaton is ranked ninth nationally in scoring (10.3 points per game).  Slaton has rushed for 11 touchdowns in his last four games.  On the year Slaton has carried the ball 117 times for 695 yards, a 5.6 rushing average with 11 touchdowns.  Freshman tailback Jason Gwaltney, a prized freshman, likely will miss the final two games because of reported academic issues.  Junior center Dan Mozes, a Pittsburgh native, anchors a very good offensive line.  Freshman quarterback Pat White runs first but is a very good passer as evidenced by his 130.06 QB rating.  The Mounties' big play threat at wide out is Brandon Myles who has 28 receptions for 456 yards, a 16.3 receiving average and three touchdowns.

Analysis: Don't expect a repeat of last seasons' brawl unless the Panthers can find a way to stop WVU's running game and establish a running game of their own.  The Mountaineers will run the ball down the Panthers throats and will continue to do so until Pitt proves that they can stop it.  Screens, draws and misdirection plays should work against this athletic defense.  The Panthers will look to establish a running game but will likely have to rely on Palkos' arm to have any chance for a victory.      

Edge: WVU

 

Defense:

The Panthers are fifth in the nation in pass defense (164.0).  Linebacker H.B. Blades is 10th in tackles (12.0) and defensive backs Josh Lay (1.30) and Darrelle Revis (1.20) are tied for 10th and 17th respectively in passes defended.  Clint Session is back and made his first start of the season against UConn, responding with six tackles and several quarterback pressures.  Freshman defensive linemen Rashaad Duncan and Gus Mustakas continue creating havoc along the defensive front.  

 

West Virginia is ranked fourth in the nation and first in the conference in total defense (269.8).  They also rank first in the conference in scoring defense (17.0) and rushing defense (91.2).  Mike Lorello is tied for eighth in forced fumbles (0.44). WVU's defense has allowed only one100-yard rusher all season.  The 27 sacks recorded by WVU are the most in Rodriguez' tenure as head coach.  Linebackers Kevin McLee and Jay Henry are extremely active. Strong safety Jahmile Addae is a fierce hitter that excels in coverage and is very good at run support.

 

Analysis: Pitt must maintain their gap assignments, contain the outside rush and try to force Pat White to beat them with his arm.  The return of Thomas Smith should help with some push in the middle.  West Virginia has a very fast and athletic defense.  They take good angles, get to the ball and tackle well.  Both secondaries are extremely talented. 

Edge: WVU

 

Special Teams:

Pitt ranks 14th nationally in kickoff returns (24.23).  Josh Cummings is ninth nationally in field goals per game (1.75).  Adam Graessle leads the conference in punting average (42.5).

 

WVU leads the conference and is 10th in the country in punt return average (15.1 per return).  The Mounties also rank 21st nationally in kickoff return average (23.36 per return).  Antonio Lewis leads the Big East with a punt return average of 19.6 yards per return.

Analysis: The special teams appear to be fairly even.  This game won't come down to special teams.  If it happens, I give a slight edge to Pitt only because Josh Cummings is doing the place kicking. 

Edge: Pitt

Prediction: WVU, 45-19

 

 

 


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