Pittsburgh (4-5 overall, 2-2 in the Big East) faces the Scarlet Knights (6-4, 2-3) Saturday at noon at Rutgers Stadium in Piscataway, N.J. RU had big losses to West Virginia and Connecticut before winning at Army last week.
"We've had our problems the last couple years against Rutgers, and I feel like we know them better now than we ever have,'' Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "They're an outstanding football team. They have the leading back in our conference and one of the leading backs in the country. He's a Heisman trophy candidate.''
Wannstedt noted that with Rice, Rutgers will primarily run a power game with him pounding between the tackles from start to finish. And if Rice doesn't get the job done, the Scarlet Knights can go to the air with quarterback Mike Teel. He has completed better than 57 percent of his passes for nearly 2,500 yards and 14 touchdowns with 10 interceptions.
Sophomore Jabu Lovelace, Teel's backup, might get some playing time as well due to the starter's injury problems. Wannstedt believed that Teel would start, but Pitt needs to be concerned with Lovelace as well. After Rice, who has run for 1,500 yards and 16 touchdowns, Lovelace is second with 317 rushing yards and four scores. He's not really a passing threat.
"We're preparing for both quarterbacks,'' Pitt defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads said. "Lovelace, he's a good runner, and it's a good bet that's what he'll be doing when he gets in there. Teel isn't as mobile, but he's had a good season as a passer. But their biggest offensive threat is Rice.''
Rice is a receiving threat as well as a running one, and he has 23 catches with one touchdown. Rutgers' top two pass-catchers are Tiquan Underwood and Kenny Britt with 57 and 41 catches, respectively. Underwood averages 17 yards per catch with six touchdowns, while Britt averages 21 yards per catch with four scores.
"Their offensive line is huge,'' Wannstedt said. "I mean they are big and physical and strong. That was a foundation that they set a couple years ago, and that will be a challenge for us. They can give Teel time to pass and open holes for Rice. That makes them a tough offense to stop.''
Defensively, Rutgers coach Greg Schiano basically is the anti-Wannstedt. Pitt offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh said the Scarlet Knights pressure opponent 30 percent of the time and might come after Pitt freshman quarterback Pat Bostick up to 50 percent. Wannstedt would rather have spikes driven through various body parts than blitz that often.
"They take a lot of chances on defense, and we certainly have to try to take advantage of that,'' Wannstedt said. "We'll have to be very efficient on offense and not make any mistakes.''
Junior free safety Courtney Greene and junior linebacker Kevin Malast lead Rutgers with 73 tackles each, but Greene has a team-high 35 solo stops. The Scarlet Knights have 25 sacks, including six by junior defensive end Jamaal Westerman. He also has 10.5 total stops behind the line, while Rutgers has 68 total and eight interceptions.
"They have a good defense, and they'll probably have eight guys in the box to stop the run,'' Pitt tailback LeSean McCoy said. "They're very aggressive on defense, and they run to the ball real well. We have to be patient on offense, I believe, take what they give us and keep playing our game.''
Bostick likely will face a furious pass-rush from start to finish. Senior defensive tackle Eric Foster has been a stalwart all season.
"They have some good corners, and Foster is a beast up front,'' Bostick said. "So, it'll be a good test for our offensive line and our passing game. We have to limit our mistakes and run the ball well, and I need to hit some big passing plays when I get the opportunity.''
And if that happens, the Panthers could take a victorious first step in their run to a bowl game.
Pitt Has Big Test With Rutgers
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