PITTSBURGH -- If quarterback Tyler Palko is correct, the University of Pittsburgh should show a great deal of improvement in it's Big East game against Cincinnati on Friday at 8 at Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Pitt (1-0) and the Bearcats (1-0) meet in the second installment of the River City Rivalry, which the Panthers won 38-20 last year at Heinz Field, and Palko expected an even better performance than in his team's opening win.
"We had a pretty good game against Virginia, but by no means did we play a perfect game,'' Palko said. "We can improve, and this is the time to do it. This week and next week are when you make the most improvement.''
Cincinnati doesn't appear to have much room for improvement after opening with a 31-0 win against Division I-AA Eastern Kentucky in its opener, but that's probably not a good indicator. Still, Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt had nothing but praise for Cincy coach Mark Dantonio and the Bearcats.
"They're feeling very confident coming into this game,'' Wannstedt said, referring to Cincy's shutout in the opener. "Last year, it seemed like their entire defense was all freshmen.
"They started six or seven true freshmen last year. Ten defensive starters and seven offensive starters are back. So, their players have been in the system a few years now, and they've played together.''
On defense, two starting linemen, a linebacker and cornerback are sophomores. On offense, the left tackle and the fullback are freshmen, while the quarterback is a sophomore. Other sophomores are the right guard and a wideout. So, the Bearcats are extremely young, but not without talent.
"I think their secondary's very athletic, and their corners are very big,'' Palko said. "They're taller kids, and No. 13 (junior FS Haruki Nakamura) is a heckuva ball player. He's a tough kid, and their linebackers are stout and athletic. Their D-line was young last year, but they're much-improved.
"They love to get to the quarterback. They play hard, and they're great football players. They have a very talented defense, and Coach D has them hyped up and ready to go. So, we have to be prepared for that.''
Nakamura was Cincy's leading tackler with six stops (five solo), while junior defensive end Anthony Hoke had two tackles for loss and two quarterback hits and senior defensive tackle Tony Carvitti had two sacks.
"They're a four-three (defense) that likes to challenge on the outside,'' Palko said. "They play a lot of press man on the outside, and they have a good third-down package. They mix them up a lot.
"Coach D is a great defensive-minded coach, so their dime and third-down packages will be confusing. We have to be ready for that.''
On offense, Dantonio utilizes a two-quarterback system with sophomore Dustin Grutza (first and third) and junior Nick Davila (second and fourth) playing two quarters each. Grutza was 9-for-15 for 161 yards, while Davila was 10-for-19 for 121. Each threw a touchdown pass. "They're very similar,'' Wannstedt said. "One might have a stronger arm, and the other one might run a little better. But they're close.''
Senior tight end Brent Celek led the way with six catches for 81 yards, while sophomore wideout Dominick Goodman had four for 48 and both TDs. Juniors Bradley Glatthaar (11 carries, 52 yards), Greg Moore (10, 45) and Butler Benton (10, 37) shared time at tailback.
Pitt didn't have too many problems with the Bearcats last season, but right offensive tackle Mike McGlynn believed the Panthers would be in for a tougher matchup this year.
"They're still young up front and not real big, maybe 275-280 pounds, but they have a lot of speed,'' McGlynn said. "They have some bull-rushers on a good defensive line. They use their speed to their advantage, and they try to cause havoc. We'll have our hands full with them.''
But if the Panthers improve as much as expected, they should still prevail against Cincinnati.