The Panthers, 6-4 overall, 2-3 in the Big East, entertain West Virginia (8-1, 3-1) in the 99th edition of the Backyard Brawl Thursday night at 7:30 at Heinz Field and close out the season with Louisville Nov. 25 at home.
While few give Pitt a chance against these two powerhouse offenses, especially considering the way its defense folded the past two games, the program could use a big win at this stage in the Dave Wannstedt era.
"We could use one,'' Wannstedt said. "These guys, obviously, are one of the best teams in the country. But we're just concerned about ourselves right now. And we're just trying to rally the troops. ... And we're going to have to score some points to win this game. With (WVU's) offense, I don't see it being a 10-7 game, by any means.''
With all the hoopla surrounding Wannstedt's return to his alma mater last season, and the team coming off a BCS bowl appearance, the Pitt faithful hoped for a better start to his reign. But the Panthers have taken baby steps any time they have shown improvement and appear to have gone backwards occasionally as well. Wannstedt, however, has not been deterred.
"I studied the tape and went through each game-by-game of the year before I got here, and then I knew where I was at and the work that we had to do,'' Wannstedt said. "But we've had just one full recruiting class, and we're going to need 2-3 to have the quality depth you need to build a program.
"And that's what we're doing here. It never happens fast enough, but ... the reality is that we've got to get a lot better. And it's going to take a little bit of time. Those are the facts, but we're in this for the long haul.''
Wannstedt was fortunate to have a hardworking senior class to lead this year's squad like quarterback Tyler Palko, linebackers H.B. Blades and Clint Session and tight end Steve Buches. It's these guys who have kept the Panthers on point during the rough times and have moved them forward.
"Things don't happen overnight or even as fast as everybody wants them to move, but we're moving ahead,'' Palko said. "It might not seem that way with our record, but we're moving ahead and doing some good things. It's just going to take some time, and we have to deal with that.
"Talking is overrated when it comes to some things, but the young guys can see that our veterans are still in here working hard in the weight room and watching tape and preparing the same way every day for these football games. That's how a tradition is built.
"This (football program) obviously has it,'' Palko added, "but it's just been buried for a while. And I hope this senior class (can) leave a good impression with these last two games. We have to get back on the horse, but it's not ingrained in talking. Actions speak louder than words.'' And wins are the payoffs for that hard work. A team needs a few of those along the way to keep its players going, and Pitt is overdue.
"We're on a three-game skid right now,'' Palko said. "We need to get back on track, and a win can do that for us. We've got two more games left, and we've got to get that (losing) feeling out of our system. ... I know we can win this game. If you didn't believe in it, and Coach Wannstedt didn't feel that we did believe we could win we wouldn't be on the field.''
Several teams have run roughshod over Pitt's defense in recent years, and the Mountaineers are among the nation's best rushing teams. To some, that would make this a difficult matchup for the Panthers. But junior cornerback Darrelle Revis believed the defense would rise to the occasion.
"Nobody goes into a game thinking they'll lose,'' Revis said. "If you're a competitor, you're going to play as hard as you can to get a win. So, I don't think we have any doubts. We're 6-4 and trying to get our seventh win.
"Last year was a tough loss (at WVU). It was a bad year for us, and they jumped on us quick. ... We're sour about that loss, and we're motivated to have a different outcome this year. So, we'll see what happens.''
Note: Wannstedt said that after discussing things with junior TE Darrell Strong Sunday, his suspension will continue this week. He won't practice or work out with the team. He'll be evaluated again after the game.